Sunday, March 27, 2011

Earth Hour - another Sunday sermon

"The amount of power that's saved during that time is not really what it's about,"
I would imagine so, since it's quite an insignificant amount.
"What it is meant to be about is showing what can happen when people come together."
Is the explanation of the hour-long turning off of lights on monuments and many countries around the world given by Earth Hour co-founder and executive director Andy Ridley. In other words it's a feel-good gesture that lets people who prefer gestures to making a difference, like the countless other "awareness raising" parties of all sorts.

Mass delusion, witch hunts, lynch mobs and riots, of course are other examples of what can happen when people come together. I think we need much more and much different solutions.

Might I suggest that working together toward a purpose is what we need and that such things require objectivity, education and a lot of money. Since most of the rapid increase in power consumption around the world is both the cause and effect of raising the standard of living of the suffering poor, it all sounds a bit smug for the haves of the world to be having a parade of Liberal virtue by perhaps not driving the Hummer for an hour or turning off some lights and partying in the dark. It's the kind of smugness that one sees in those swooning over some imaginary romantic and bucolic world where everyone farms with manure and mules and the bugs, crows and fungus don't eat two thirds of the crops. A world where people somehow find something "seasonal and local" and "organic" and not "processed" even in in the desert and tundra and the mountains instead of the often fatal malnutrition and disease our ancestors suffered until Clarence Birdseye, mechanical refrigeration and the steam locomotive saved us from goiters, pellagra, scurvy, hunger and a diet of boiled turnips every winter.

In the real world, billions would starve in short order without the technology that scares us so much, but maybe that wouldn't count because they'd be in Africa and places like that where we wouldn't have to smell it or catch Cholera and we'd have like soooo much fun raising awareness about it by having gala parties where the servants would pass around empty Hors d'Ĺ“uvre trays for an hour.

It's not that I'm against making some sacrifices or investing in public transportation or supplementing fossil fuel burning with wind and geothermal and hydroelectric power -- or even the newer, smaller, cheaper and safer nuclear plants now on the drawing boards -- quite the opposite. I'm all for heavy investment in research and development -- and paying for it with public revenue because private investment for such long range goals just doesn't happen on it's own. For an example, look at how much of today's digital world is the direct result of the tax and spend space program of the 50's and 60's.

No, what irks me is the neo-Luddite loathing for technology: the very technology we need to save us from Malthusian doom. It's usually the product of some scientific outcast publishing a alarmist book and convincing a lot of simpering young and uneducated celebrities that nature isn't a Hobbesean nightmare, that everything we improve our lives with from electric light to refrigeration to cell phones is going to bring that nature crashing down -- killing the bees with mysterious "cell phone rays" for instance and filling the world with unspecified "toxins" and radioactive vapours.

It's people like Bill Maher telling us our food is killing us even as we live longer and longer -- that we wouldn't have disease to cure if only we didn't eat corn products. It's celebrity scientists like Woody Harrelson telling us telling us not to cook our food. It's charlatans with their magnetic bracelets "tuned to natural frequencies" and pieces of magic duct tape that suck the "toxins" from our feet. It's the ancient and universal practice of blaming everything, every disease, disaster and disorder on witches, made new again.

This kind of "awareness" doesn't need raising, what needs raising is technology: understanding of it, awareness of it, investment in it -- the skill and will in developing and applying it. Please consider our hirsute relatives with thumbs on their feet and remember that it's the ability to produce and utilize energy that stands between us and squalor, privation and the nasty, brutish, disease filled, parasite ridden and short lives we used to share with the animals.

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