My lights will be on !

I received a phone call earlier this week from a reporter doing a story on Earth Day, the sit-in-the-dark hour. She cheerfully wanted my contribution to how I was honouring or observing Earth Day. There followed a most awkward conversation, she could not decide if I was joshing her or was serious.

I assure you I am serious.

My Christmas lights in the front tree will be on tonight.

Electricity is a marvellous blessing, a mark of our civilization. It represents enlightenment, learning, opportunity, advancement. I have no desire to sit freezing in the dark.

It bothers me that the save-electricity time is on a Saturday evening. With time of day billing [save up to $5 a month by shifting your electricity consumption as monitored by a $9 a month meter!] why are we saving electricity at the cheapest time, possibly when Ontario Hydro is busy PAYING other utilities to take off our surplus electricity?

If this is to be a meaningful gesture, it should occur in January when it’s cold and would include turning off the furnace for six hours or so; or at 2pm in July when A/C demands challenge the network. But no, this futile gesture is not meaningful, it’s superficial,  it’s an excuse to avoid the hard choices. I note the envirokeeners don’t ask for any real sacrifice, and always avoid simple things like raising the consumer-paid gas tax in favour of indirect, less-traceable actions like increasing the tax on petroleum corporations.

That abdication of responsibility is telling. It tells me their support is shallow. They simply cannot marshal enough support for things that affect people directly.

So instead of hiding in the dark tonight, I’ll be warming by my gas fireplace, reading a book, listening to the kids play video games in another area of my centrally-heated century home. And my lights will be on because we have a civilization and culture that is worth emulating.

18 thoughts on “My lights will be on !

  1. While I agree that one hour of energy conservation is a pretty small and meaningless gesture when done at the easiest time of year to conserve and, for the most part, it’s more than offset by an entire year of not even thinking about conservation. I don’t see how unnecessarily running your gas fireplace makes a statement, though; natural gas is a greenhouse gas, and a finite resource, while electricity is not.

    Electricity still isn’t a zero-sum game, though. What people need to do is conserve on those difficult days–weeknights, and during the summer when AC would be so nice–so that our overall supply doesn’t have to be so high, so that on the low-demand periods–like Saturday nights, or weekdays–we don’t have such a massive surplus that we’re giving it away (or worse). Electricity is cheap and a renewable resource, but even the so-called green kinds (hydro, wind, solar) aren’t without cost (damaged water systems, deaths of birds and bats, and a massive need for land, respectively). We can be proud of our ability to generate electricity without using it recklessly.

  2. I might be one of those “envirokeeners” but I also think Earth hour is an empty gesture. I participated one year but thought it was kind of silly. I completely agree ,without meaningful policy proposals, awareness raising activities do nothing but waste political capital.

  3. Well said. Empty gestures like turning off the lights for an hour when it’s somewhat convenient for most people is at BEST pointless, and at worse actually counter-productive. Many people will choose to use a few candles for light during that hour, which in all but the most absurdly rare cases would actually be less efficient and environmentally friendly than simply leaving the lights on.

    It’s a nice self-congratulatory way of saying “See? I care about the Earth!” without actually doing anything to actually help.

  4. I agree with you and your commenters. “Offset by the rest of the year when no one thinks about conservation” is true. On the other hand, I suppose it does raise awareness, and that’s not a bad thing. But yes, I will have my lights on unless I am not at home. Of course, I was also out on my bicycle yesterday in the -17C windchill so I have no apologizing to do.

  5. Most disturbing is the widespread suggestion that people should spend the hour “in candlelight”. While the symbolism may be nice, the level of carbon emissions produced when using candles for light is likely to exceed that of even the dirtiest of our (industrial sized) electric generators! For example:

    * A typical candle consumes 4 grams of wax per hour, producing about 11 g of CO2
    * A 40Watt incandescent lightbulb produces the equivalent (co-incidentally) of 40 candles worth of light
    * If this electric power is coming from a coal-fired facility, it would produce 1 g of CO2 per Watt-hour – ie 40 g CO2 to keep the light on for one hour. So if you don’t want to increase your carbon emissions when you turn off the lights, you are limited to just 4 candles – 1/10th the amount of light for the same carbon output (It’s even worse if you are normally using a Compact Fluorescent – the 40w equivalent is about 7W – not even enough savings to cover the emissions generated by 1 candle.)

  6. Good for you. This is the same as cross-country treks for ‘Cancer Cures’, or other issues. I’m not doing anything different, either.
    I’ve earned the right to turn on the TV, lights and feel safe and confortable in my home. It won’t raise awareness for those who choose to waste energy, just as running for 24 hours, or three days, won’t cure cancer. We still see neighbours with hot tubs, heated pools and air conditioning when they are away on holidays.

      1. What makes me crazy are the people running their AC when it is cool enough to open the windows and get fresh air in. And I hear the ACs grinding away because I am sitting outside because it is so nice out. I know a few of them might have pollen issues but surely not all of them. Open your windows folks and stick your head out the door! Okay, not today, but soon.

  7. I’m really disappointed in your behaviour, Eric. You still have Christmas lights up in March?

    1. natural gas is a fossil fuel, not a greenhouse gas

      Just to be pedantic: “Natural Gas”, which is mostly methane, is both a fossil fuel that produces CO2 as a GHG when we burn it, and a GHG in its own right if it gets into the atmosphere. (It’s actually ~20x more effective as a GHG than CO2.)

  8. I’m poorly paid – every day is Earth Hour for me! I’m in the dark writing this as I …write….
    One hour in late March isn’t going to do anything; it’s just a feel good exercise for people who will crank the heat back up to 85, fire up the 42 inch plasma and start microwaving the second the hour is up. Participation in Earth Hour is pointless – it’s what you do the other 364 days a year that counts.

  9. Is it perfect … No, not even close. Is it for you, the holier than thou group…No, not even close.
    Earth day and earth hour are to highlight the issue to the 95% who would never even consider making a change.
    My young children, who admittedly haven’t a clue or a care for the environment yet, actually volunteered to pick up garbage from the trees across the street and were AWARE of the issue of using too much gas/electricity, at least for a day.
    It plants an idea, a doubt, a thought in the minds of many. Most will never act on it, a very few will remember it when it matters. A few this year, a few next year and provided the idea doesn’t get trampled by the arrogant and self-righteous maybe it can lead to a positive change. But go ahead tell the world that you are too good for this and just to be spiteful turn on your air conditioner and open your windows, that’ll show them. And please don’t forget to complain when you see the people doing something unacceptable, like leaving a light on.
    Crotchety old bastard.

    1. Symbolism can be a useful tool for education and increasing awareness of an issue. But when the chosen symbolic gesture (turning off lights and burning candles) actually *increases* the magnitude of the problem being addressed, perhaps it’s time to revise the campaign. For example, instead of candlelight for an hour, how about a household “no-people-no-lights” campaign for the entire evening (or even the whole weekend). That would probably be even more memorable for the kids (what kid wouldn’t love the opportunity to be the “electricity monitor” and tell everyone else what to do), and gives people the opportunity to try doing something simple that they could get into doing all the time.

    1. Re no-people-no-lights vs “the local break and enter folks”:

      1) I actually meant this for when people are home, not to leave lights on in rooms they are not using. Light switches are often conveniently located near the doorways :).

      2) When I go out during the day, I do turn off almost all the lights in my house. When I go out at night, I often leave 1 or 2 on. (though if I am away for an extended period, I always put some lights on timers). I also have some lights (both indoors and outdoors) controlled by motion-sensitive switches. As for lights deterring burglars, my house was broken into a few years ago – at 10:30 in the morning.

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