The symbolism of Earth Hour

Light a candle to reduce fossil fuel consumption! Wait a minute, what are those candles made from…?
Light a candle to reduce fuel consumption...?

In late 2011, Todd Sampson, CEO of the advertising agency behind Earth Hour, presented at a conference I attended, and he was engaging and inspiring. I’d always been skeptical of Earth Hour (wouldn’t a better action be to sign up for green energy with your power company?) But his presentation helped me be much more sympathetic: lights being turned off around the world is a grand symbolic action, and the sense that we connect with others around the world by taking part in this action is an inspiring, goose bump inducing feeling – at least while a gifted orator shared his described it from the stage accompanied by a beautiful slideshow.

It was a challenging audience, though, not your average sustainability conference, nor a marketing or managing conference – this was an audience of engineers. While younger engineers I spoke with were mostly positive about the presentation, and Earth Hour, but I found that older engineers in attendance were skeptical or ambivalent. One head of an engineering relief agency, not out of his 20’s but already skeptical enough, confessed privately: “I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation, and I resented him for it, because I knew it was marketing.”

For all our skepticism, though, I felt the emotional power of the symbolism, and I was struck that an advertising agency had done what it knew how to do, done it well, and inspired a grand gesture.

So I’m inspired… not to be less skeptical, as skepticism keeps us from folly. Not to be less practical, as symbolism is nothing without action. Rather, I’m inspired to be appreciative of the roles of others in our “ecosystem” of sustainable action.

And when I see someone doing X rather than Y (when Y is something far more important in my view), it’s a reminder for me to ask if Y is my role. I can’t do what an advertising agency can do, and I can’t expect an ad agency to do what I can do as an engineer (or a teacher, or business manager, or community member, or communicator, or gardener, or scientist… insert your role here). But we can look for ways to work together, to do what we must in facing our challenges.

Earth Hour’s challenge is no longer to connect people; the challenge is to offer a reason to connect. Any movement of change begins with symbolism – it’s a needed step to prove enough people care about an issue. – Earth Hour co-founder Andy Ridley

A low-meat diet – as good as a Prius

As has been reported in the media, and highlighted by animal welfare groups, eliminating animal products from your diet is better than trading in your gas-guzzler for a Prius. But as in all things, moderation achieves good results and, importantly, is achievable:

The idea that one need not go “cold turkey” and avoid all meat also makes the prospect of changing diet more palatable. New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman has recently adopted an eat-less-meat habit, sharing low meat recipes as part of an easy, delicious modern approach to cuisine. As Bittman has pointed out, it’s much easier to go low on meat than to say no to meat. Indeed, with greater availability and variety of high-quality vegetables, beans, and grains-plus more appealing and varied recipes, inspired by a more cosmopolitan cuisine, the possibility of eating very well with a low meat diet is now greater than ever before.

via Ann Vileisis: Time to break the low-meat barrier.

The seemingly impossible is possible

What’s the real state of the world? This is the brilliance of Gapminder – it takes us beyond platitudes and generalizations about poverty and abundance, and shows us the state of the world in terms we understand.

I apologize if you’ve already seen the video below, but there are still many who haven’t. It’s an enlightening and funny presentation, and a must-see for all who care about the state of the world.

There is a lot of good news, but:

“This really shows you – we have not seen good economic and health progress anywhere in the world, without destroying the climate, and this is really what has to be changed.”

That’s Hans Rosling at TED 2007, a moment of warning in a positive talk where he argues that “the seemingly impossible is possible” and demonstrates it in an unexpected way in his finale:

As for how to have economic and health progress without destroying the climate – that’s what we’re about at Appropedia. Watch this space.

The Dalek solution to climate change

Most or all of us in the Appropedia community and the Appropedia project stand for abundance, for thrivability. We believe in using every tool at our disposal to make a better quality of life, building and working within a thriving ecosystem in which there is no waste and which enhances the renewal of natural resources.

One very different “solution” that is sometimes heard for the climate crisis, for reducing our environmental impact in all ways, is to drastically cut the human population. In some cases there is even an optimistic quality to these writings, looking forward to a better time after the population has been reduced by 90% or more. These comments left on a New Scientist article are an example:

A managed reduction in the human population to a sustainable 300 million would do much to reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.

Of course it would – but most of us will find this a ghastly thought – there’s no pretty way to slash our numbers in a short period of time, and I don’t think we want to call in the 20th century’s experts in population reduction, (all of whom exterminated millions who stood in the way of the utopias they were building).*

A crash would certainly have its benefits, just as the Black Death had positive effects – leaving more food and more land per person, and less serfs per feudal estate, and giving serfs the openings to swap their allegiance to a lord offering a better deal. Most of us, though, want a solution that doesn’t involve massive death by chaos or eugenics, just as we don’t want another Black Death.

To be fair, this commenter seemed to imagine something other than mass murder or letting massive numbers of people die somehow:

People respond well to draconian measures of population control when it is explained to them in a simple clear manner – like I say China is a case in point.

The error here being that China has not reduced its population, merely slowed its growth. So we’re back to killing people, if we really want this population crash.

Some good and sobering points about this kind of population crash utopia were made in response, in the same comments section:

Also how does dropping the population to 300 million help, if for example America wiped everyone else out we would still have a problem because America produces so much CO2.

and

I’d have to imagine that there would be more than a few loudly vocal dissenters to this plan, many of these carrying weapons of some sort and more than happy to ensure that you, or I for that matter, are among the cull while they survive…

Use less, it makes sense.

My favorite responses, though, suggested that if instead of reducing our population size, we should reduce our literal size:

We should be genetically engineering humans to be smaller, Lillypudlians or smaller, same dimensions just smaller. We would have all the resources we need then we could manage up to a sustainable population instead. I am a bit worried about cats though!

and

Yes, this will be beneficial for the space program.

Ultimately humans could be reduced to the size and shape of a Dalek.

Certainly preference to employing the Daleks to carry out the “Exterminate!” policy to bring us down to  300 million.

More seriously, this still leaves the issue of how we can sustainably and drastically reduce our impact, without starving ourselves or killing each other off. I’ll be blogging in coming days and weeks about abundance, resilience, the future of agriculture and population growth.

*The reference to genocidal maniacs is not meant to cause offence – the point is that this “population crash” option really is that bad, but on an even bigger scale.

Minor typos were corrected in the quoted comments.

The Dalek solution to climate change

Most or all of us in the Appropedia community and the Appropedia project stand for abundance, for thrivability. We believe in using every tool at our disposal to make a better quality of life, building and working within a thriving ecosystem in which there is no waste and which enhances the renewal of natural resources.

One very different “solution” that is sometimes heard for the climate crisis, for reducing our environmental impact in all ways, is to drastically cut the human population. In some cases there is even an optimistic quality to these writings, looking forward to a better time after the population has been reduced by 90% or more. These comments left on a New Scientist article are an example:

A managed reduction in the human population to a sustainable 300 million would do much to reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.

Of course it would – but most of us will find this a ghastly thought – there’s no pretty way to slash our numbers in a short period of time, and I don’t think we want to call in the 20th century’s experts in population reduction, (all of whom exterminated millions who stood in the way of the utopias they were building).*

A crash would certainly have its benefits, just as the Black Death had positive effects – leaving more food and more land per person, and less serfs per feudal estate, and giving serfs the openings to swap their allegiance to a lord offering a better deal. Most of us, though, want a solution that doesn’t involve massive death by chaos or eugenics, just as we don’t want another Black Death.

To be fair, this commenter seemed to imagine something other than mass murder or letting massive numbers of people die somehow:

People respond well to draconian measures of population control when it is explained to them in a simple clear manner – like I say China is a case in point.

The error here being that China has not reduced its population, merely slowed its growth. So we’re back to killing people, if we really want this population crash.

Some good and sobering points about this kind of population crash utopia were made in response, in the same comments section:

Also how does dropping the population to 300 million help, if for example America wiped everyone else out we would still have a problem because America produces so much CO2.

and

I’d have to imagine that there would be more than a few loudly vocal dissenters to this plan, many of these carrying weapons of some sort and more than happy to ensure that you, or I for that matter, are among the cull while they survive…

Use less, it makes sense.

My favorite responses, though, suggested that if instead of reducing our population size, we should reduce our literal size:

We should be genetically engineering humans to be smaller, Lillypudlians or smaller, same dimensions just smaller. We would have all the resources we need then we could manage up to a sustainable population instead. I am a bit worried about cats though!

and

Yes, this will be beneficial for the space program.

Ultimately humans could be reduced to the size and shape of a Dalek.

Certainly preference to employing the Daleks to carry out the “Exterminate!” policy to bring us down to  300 million.

More seriously, this still leaves the issue of how we can sustainably and drastically reduce our impact, without starving ourselves or killing each other off. I’ll be blogging in coming days and weeks about abundance, resilience, the future of agriculture and population growth.

*The reference to genocidal maniacs is not meant to cause offence – the point is that this “population crash” option really is that bad, but on an even bigger scale.

Minor typos were corrected in the quoted comments.