ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE: Judging by this 2007 view of Earth at night, the most environmentally friendly countries, every hour of every day, are most of the African countries and North Korea. Want to switch?
Photo: C. Mayhew and R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/ NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive
Every year, as March brings the first signs of spring, one event inevitably grabs attention on the last Saturday of the month – the Earth Hour. And it's getting worse with every year if one happens to be using any form of social media, as one gets bombarded by invitations to different events on the same topic from all quarters.
One of these had the deliciously ironic, if perhaps unintentionally so, motto: "Stay in the dark!" For as admirable a goal that saving the planet is (selfish, but commendable nevertheless), surely events such as the Earth Hour have no effect in achieving that goal.
Electricity consumption might register a minute dip, but that will not stop the power plants from producing the electricity and pumping it into the grid, so it is clearly not about immediate results.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has been organising the Earth Hour since 2007, says that the event is about long-term awareness. With all due respect to the WWF and the numerous truly important conservation projects it is involved in, this one is a waste of their and our time.
Saving the planet is not about flicking switches and having candle-lit sing-alongs in the park. It is about efficiency – not just energy, but all natural resources – proper recycling and finding less wasteful ways of doing things. Sound familiar? All things that Bulgaria, as well as many other countries, should strive to do much better.
How many enthusiastic Earth Hour participants gave up using their cars in favour of bikes, or even switch to a more fuel-efficient model? How many, for that matter, use energy-saving light bulbs? How many have planted a tree or recycle daily?
An acquaintance of mine, some time ago, called the Earth Hour the ultimate environmental indulgence, likening it to the medieval Roman Catholic Church practice of forgiving sins for cash donations. In exchange for one hour spent in the dark, one is absolved of all consumerist sins accrued over the rest of the year. A small price to pay for a clean conscience, indeed.
The hypocrisy is at its worst with state institutions. This year, again, a number of city halls across Bulgaria, along with ministries and the presidency, will switch off lights (on a Saturday evening, no less).
What a wonderful photo opportunity, but does it make up for the absent or inadequate recyclable waste collection and processing infrastructure? How about the puny Budget allocations for energy efficiency? Or even the petrol-guzzling expensive sedans and SUV's used by elected officials and appointed civil servants, for that matter?
The answer to all those questions is an emphatic "no". But you know they will use their participation in the Earth Hour as an argument to show how environmentally aware they are.
But beyond the practical reasons why the Earth Hour is a useless endeavour, there is the philosophical challenge. Is there really no way to protect the planet except by rejecting all the advances of human civilisation from the past several centuries?
Tell that to the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I dare you. Especially those who have not had a hot meal in two weeks because they have no way to heat water for their instant noodles.
The medieval era is called the Dark Ages for good reason. Life expectancy was ridiculously low and let's not even mention what everything smelled of.
Thankfully, we no longer live in the Dark Ages – something to ponder for those Earth Hour organisers that advocate staying in the dark. I am sure I am not alone in enjoying the numerous advances of civilisation and would like to continue doing so, in a way that would not prevent our descendants from doing the same.
But the Earth Hour has no answers to that endeavour, only a nebulous promise that things will be better if we flick a switch on a Saturday evening.
This is why, this Saturday I will be celebrating Human Achievement Hour with a warm meal, wearing my comfortable clothes (another fruit of the abundance of energy in all its forms), doing things that would be impossible without electricity. To do otherwise while enjoying all the benefits of civilisation that energy makes possible would be hypocritical.
People in 134 countries pledged to participate in the event at 8.30pm in each time zone. With the official support of more than 350 cities across Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Ukraine, Earth Hour was observed by thousands of people in Central and Eastern Europe.
According to a recent report in Bulgarian-language daily Monitor, an alleged "SMS mania" was responsible for the inability of the average Bulgarian teenager to write to standards of grammatical correctness in their native language.
We have finally learned about the activities of Ahmed Dogan, the almighty and long-standing leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party, during all the years he failed to appear in Parliament.
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