Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ross McKitrick: Earth Hour - a dissent

In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour. Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick       
Professor of Economics                 
University of Guelph


Charles said...

Amen! Something else the greenies have given little thought to... If we were to go back to a more traditional way of life, scratching a living in the dirt, we are going to need a lot more land per person than is currently the case. My 770 sq m section just won't cut it if I have to grow vegetables, raise chickens and keep the odd cow or two and some sheep and goats. Today's modern societies with more intensive agriculture live on a lot less land per person than we'd need if we were to adhere to the greenie prescription.

Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen! Last 'earth hour' I wrote exactly the same thoughts under the pseudonym 'sceptics' on the website Ecobob. I threatened to turn every light on in my Onehunga house as a beacon to shed light on this ignorant wishy washy wacky concept of deigning cheap electricity to the world in the interests of reducing our output of anthropogenic CO2. When the greenies finally wakeup to this confidence trick of making believe that CO2 is a pollutant instead of the amazingly beneficial gas essential for growing our food, and start to tackle the real causes of pollution, our world will be a healthier and saner place.

Rex (sceptics’)

Kenneth E. Smith said...

Earth hour is just tokenism at it's worst.

Collin Bl said...

All the so called advantages of 'Earth Hour" wiped out in minutes by Eyjafjallajökull Volcano or perhaps it was seconds - hard to tell as i certainly have not changed to those 'curly bulbs'. Only time i sit in the dark is if the power goes off, no way will i be flicking the switch.