The rolling global one hour blackout that is Earth Hour has begun. As I write this on Saturday morning in Alabama, the lights have been turned off and are already back on in Sydney, Australia. Darwin and Manila are in the dark now, as the darkness moves westward across the globe.
The concept of Earth Hour is that all over the world, from 8:30 pm until 9:30 pm local time, people turn their power off as a gesture of support for fundamental changes to combat global warming. It got its start in Australia, where climate change has become painfully real in the form of an historic drought that spawned deadly brush fires this summer. Sydney’s entire skyline was dark during the Earth Hour observance. Contrast that with the U.S., where there’s been almost no discussion of Earth Hour other than in Portland, San Francisco, and New York.
Amanda and I are part of a mere handful of people in our little republican ghetto of Vestavia Hills who have even heard of Earth Hour. We will have some friends over for dinner tonight as a farewell for a family moving away. After a tender but anguished discussion, we have decided that we will not observe Earth Hour tonight. Our concern, and in these matters Amanda’s judgment is unfailingly accurate, is that any gesture we make to observe Earth Hour would be perceived by our conservative friends as inappropriately injecting our political agenda into an event intended to honor others. The concern, in other words, is that it would backfire and do more harm than good.
And I guess that’s the challenge of dealing with catastrophic climate change. The ones who are doing the most damage, people in the industrialized West like Americans, tend to be the least aware, the most willing to swallow the BS offered to them by climate change deniers, and most quick to condemn those who disagree with them. The ones who are suffering now, in Victoria and Sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh, may be the ones who are on the front lines of dealing with the bleak, depressing reality of what we are doing to ourselves, but they aren’t necessarily the ones who are producing most of the problem.
Soon enough, catastrophic climate change will affect the life and psyche of every human. We will all know people who have had to evacuate coastal cities; we will all know someone who had to leave Phoenix or Las Vegas or who lost their house in a fire. We will all pay more for food. There will soon be no human unaffected by climate change.
But from 8:30 to 9:30 tonight, we Americans will leave the lights and the heat on in our 5,000 sq. ft. McMansion and climb into the Chevrolet Tahoe to drive to an incandescently lighted restaurant where we will dine on a steak from a factory farm, finished off with fruit imported from Chile atop ice cream from Belgium. And over dinner we will wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t realize how wonderful we are.
If we were smart, we would use Earth Hour not just as a way for tree-huggers to compare the scents of their candles but as a dignified foretaste of a distressingly undignified future. The time has already arrived in scores of countries and will soon arrive in America when a one-hour blackout is an unremarkable event, one of those things you just deal with. Like dandruff, or Madonna.
And the real blackouts, the ones we don’t carefully schedule and promote to our customers, will come dressed in fear, arriving as they will without warning or police protection. I can hear the shotguns cocking across America, and it’s not a pretty sound.