Earth Hour has been a Going Thing for three years now. Every year I hope the promoters of this feel-good event will abandon their usual simple-minded and vaguely misanthropic message that energy is bad, and do something to promote actual energy literacy in the general public. While this year’s version produced no new promotional rhetoric—and, in Ontario, no drop in electricity generation (see epstats.com)—I am encouraged by the growing impatience on the part of mainstream media commentators, like Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star, with the premises on which Earth Hour is based. Many point out the obvious fact that not all electricity systems are the same. Australia, where Earth Hour originated, makes most of its electricity by burning coal. France makes most of its power using nuclear fission, which is emission free.
These are important differences. Burning paraffin candles might produce a slight decrease in carbon emissions if your only other illumination choice is electricity in Australia. But if you did the same thing in France, your carbon emissions would increase. Similarly in Canada. Alberta’s electricity system is almost all coal-fired, with an emission intensity of nearly a kilogram of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour generated. Quebec’s is based almost entirely on hydro and nuclear; its system emission intensity is around eight grams per kWh—probably the cleanest system in the world.
Click here to see Environment Canada’s electricity intensity tables for all Canadian provinces and territories.
Because of the big difference between electricity systems across Canadian provinces, across-the-board calls for energy conservation in the name of protecting the planet often miss the point. An all-out effort to reduce electricity use in provinces like Quebec, Newfoundland-Labrador, Manitoba, and British Columbia will produce minuscule emission reductions; these provinces’ electricity systems are very low-carbon.
In fact, it would be much better to advise residents of these provinces to use more electricity. For example, electric space heating in these provinces is much cleaner than even the most efficient natural gas (see article). Instead of telling people in Quebec, Newfoundland-Labrador, Manitoba, and BC to turn their lights off during Earth Hour, we should have told them to put all their incandescent lights on, and turn down the thermostats of their natural gas or oil furnaces.
Earth Hour’s most enthusiastic promoters tend to ignore these niceties and view any electricity use as inherently bad. The World Wildlife Fund is typical in this regard. Such groups fancy themselves the true defenders of the planet. In my opinion they are misanthropic Luddites whose advice we should all ignore.
My main problem with groups like the WWF is not only that they are doctrinally anti-nuclear and pro–natural gas, an absurd position when you consider they are also anti–oil sands, and oil sands air pollution is almost all caused by burning natural gas.
No, my main problem is that they are anti-electricity. They’d rather we all kill the lights and use candles, most of which are made from paraffin, a fossil fuel. Have any of them ever considered making their children do their homework by candlelight? Do they think poor African or Indian children should study by candlelight instead of electric light?
I am not against environmentalism; I’m an ardent environmentalist myself. I just think the natural environment deserves better representation. A fellow pro-nuclear blogger, Charles Barton of Nuclear Green, puts it best:
The purpose of Nuclear Green is not to attack environmentalism. Rather it is to recapture it from the horde of misanthropes, grafters, and ignoramuses, who currently lead most environmental organizations, and their brain dead followers, who recite 40 year old bumper sticker slogans, as if they were the last word on reality.
Now that the mainstream media has caught on to some of the facile underpinnings of Earth Hour, maybe we can get back to truly educating the public about energy choices. We—humans—have important decisions to make, and we should be as well informed as possible.