Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Save the world this Earth Hour

Last year, I spoke about the 8759 hours in the year that aren't Earth Hour--you know, that one time of year for people who consider a whole day too long to be an environmentalist?

Last night, however, I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep (you know, that time every single night when you turn off the lights for a whole bunch of hours?) when I got to worrying about Earth Hour.

You see, last year, I turned on all my lights and appliances during Earth Hour mainly to be a contrarian dick, and to distance myself from this superficial, contrived event for SUV-driving armchair environmentalists. But this year I might actually save the world by doing so, and you should too.

To complicate matters, I've been invited to an event that night, and that means that I'll either have to turn on all my appliances for the entire time I'm out of the house, or I'll have to inadvertently mark Earth Hour the same way as all the wannabes--by turning off my lights and appliances.

Either way, I'll be damned if I burn any candles. Do you know how wasteful those things are?

But the real reason I'm worried is that my traditional (well-illuminated) celebration of Earth Hour might actually be helping the environment.

You see, power generation isn't a linear thing. When the grid needs to pull more electricity than normal, you turn on more power plants. There are various plants that can be easily activated for peak use. After all, spikes in power consumption are literally an every day occurrence. Have a look at the near real-time Ontario Wholesale Electricity and Prices. It is these peak usage times that strain our electricity system, requiring electricity retailers to import power from other jurisdictions (often coal-fired plants from the US) at ridiculous prices.

The real problem for the electricity grid is when power consumption drops below the normal consumption. While there are plants that can be easily activated and deactivated for peak use, the majority of the power comes from base load power plants, which produce a generally consistent amount of power. Think nuclear plants, which can take days to turn on and off.

Weekends are not a peak usage time. So much so that when Hydro Ottawa introduces time-of-use billing, weekends (all 48 hours of every one) will be priced at the lowest pricing range.

Now, Earth Hour--which is held on a weekend--is only a recent phenomenon, but thankfully I chronicled it in 2009 and 2008. As its popularity grows, the risk of damage does too.

If enough people and greenwashed organizations actually cut their power usage at a time of low electricity demand, they run the risk of leaving the province with a significantly oversized supply of base-load power and no way to turn off the tap. In this type of circumstance, they have to burn it off and waste the electricity. In a doomsday scenario, it might actually cause damage to our power grid, but that's just wild speculation on my part.

Based on this, if I really wanted to be a dick, I would actually go along with the Horoterrestrial Deluminants to help demonstrate they're doing more harm than good.

But then, in the days of Glen Beck and Ann Coulter, if we're going to resort to wild speculation, we'd might as go all the way:

Maybe with the knowledge (er, 'knowledge') that this could do major damage to our power supply, turning off all my lights during Earth Hour at the behest of jingoistic governments and environmental groups might actually consist of conspiracy to commit terrorism!

If anything, it's my civic duty to leave my lights and electronics running during Earth Hour!

- RG>


Allison said...

Obviously shutting off the lights isn't going to save the world, but I don't think that's the point.

It seems to me that turning off the lights is a purely symbolic gesture that is designed to get people thinking and talking about the environment. Much like how the Live Earth concerts created a ton of garbage and used an enormous amount of energy and fossil fuels, but were still a sign of attitudes towards climate change changing.

The annual event gives the environment some airplay on the news, and that’s got to be a good thing. Because it’s such an easy way for SUV driving North Americans to feel connected to the cause, it’s bound to be more popular than anything that would make a real, albeit small, difference (say Consume Nothing Day or Carfree Day).

I don’t know yet if I’ll be turning off all the lights, but I definitely won’t be turning any more on.

Anonymous said...

Holy Shit! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We must stop the madness. There should be a hue and cry -- especially a hue.

Johan Donald said...

There is no place like the Sydney Harbour in Sydney during the night hours – and that’s especially true for the Earth Hour! And there’s no better place than a plush cruising restaurant to enjoy the unique experience of the Earth Hour!

RealGrouchy said...

Allison - my problem is that many people will use this symbolic event in place of real, substantive, actions. It sets off my bullshit meter. Add up enough symbolic gestures, and you drown out any opportunity for real change. Especially when the action is something people do every single night.

XUP - I can always count on you for support. You hue, I'll cry.

Johan - I can't tell if you're a spammer or not, but I agree that a cruise is definitely a great way to spend a carbon-footprint-reducing event!

- RG>

Anonymous said...

This type of event is meant to inspire people and show that there is a network of people throughout the world and region that symbolically believe we need to change our many events, like the one my family will attend, there will be action alerts and ways that people can write both their local, regional, and township leaders to ask for change...this is also an opportunity to link up with others in their community who feel the same and that linkage helps empower people to work for change. One might say that many waste their time everyday going to games and other leisure outings where they all crowd together to cheer for a certain team for example. Earth Hour gives us an opportunity (many of who are working every day for change for the earth by the way) to mingle together and be a part of something larger that will then help elevate issues and engage people to make meaningful change in their lives, their communities and the larger world. And certainly, this shift in thinking is long overdue.

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