Lights Off?

So we’re rapidly approaching Earth Hour. The one hour out of the year where everyone is supposed to turn off their lights in some kind of solidarity with the planet and the outrageous damage we’re doing to it with our neverending energy demands. So what exactly does that achieve? A warm fuzzy feeling? A chance to drink wine by candlelight? Perhaps. But I think none of this really gets to the heart of the issue which is really considering our relationship to energy.

Instead of turning off your lights for an hour, maybe you should go hit the main breaker for your house. Kill the water heater. Kill the thermostat. Kill the air conditionning. Kill the refrigerator. Shut all of it down. Now you’re starting, just starting to get the idea. Now expand it. Not just an hour, how about a day? How about the street lights and the traffic lights outside?

It kind of sounds apocalyptic, but its not really.

Think back to 2003 when millions in eastern Canada and the north eastern US were struck by one of the biggest blackouts in history or the ice storm that paralysed the same region in 1998. When I talk to people about those events I don’t hear stories of doom and gloom and the end of civilization, on the contrary I hear stories about how beautiful the night sky was, the silence, the sense of community, eating meals with neighbours by candlelight. Rather than hardship it was an adventure, an opportunity to simplify and get back to the basics. It was like sending the normally stressed and over charged city of Toronto for a weekend at the cabin in the woods.

Personally I think there should be an annual blackout day, where aside from essential services like hospitals the whole grid just shuts down once a year, to remind us of what a blessing energy really is. What rituals and events might spring up around Blackout day?

Another thing to consider during Earth Hour is making your energy more personal, and by that I mean making it yourself. Would it really be cheating if you spent Earth Hour leisurely peddling a bicycle generator to run a 7W compact fluorescent bulb while you read a book? I for one don’t think it would. Nor would I complain if you’d been storing that energy up from your home solar array. There’s a lot of talk in the government about energy independence, about getting away from the clutches of foreign oil. Well, why should you remain in the clutches of your local energy provider? If its good enough for the country, it must be good enough for you.

So go ahead and shut off a lightbulb or three if it makes you feel better, though I’d much prefer if a lightbulb went on above your head and you come up with some ways to make a difference the other 364 days and 23 hours of the year.


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