# OnPoint by Keith Ng

197

### Being a dick about Earth Hour

How much can you save during Earth Hour? If you completely stop using electricity in your house, by my rough but generous estimate, you'd saved about 2,800Wh and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 420g. (Workings at end.)

If you change a 75W incandescent lightbulb to an energy efficient equivalent, you'd save 65,700Wh per year (assuming it's on for 3 hours a day). That works out to 9,950g of greenhouse gases. That's one lightbulb.

(Ridiculous? I know. Every time I re-read this I have to re-check the calculations. 60W saving x 3 hours a day x 365 days a year.)

Blacking out the entire house for one hour every year = 420g reduction per year.
Replacing one lightbulb with an energy saving equivalent = 9,950g reduction per year.

To put it indelicately: Fuck Earth Hour.

Go buy an energy efficient lightbulb and spend Earth Hour with the lights on watching TV - you'd come out ahead by a long, long way. Better still, take an hour's wages and buy energy efficient bulbs for people who don't have them. That'd actually be worthwhile.

Earth Hour supporters retort that even if it doesn't do anything, that's okay, because Earth Hour sends a dramatic message (visible from space!) to our politicians that the citizens of Earth really care and want them to do something.

Earth to Earth Hour: Our politicians, despite their best efforts, do not live in space.

This is not how they will respond to Earth Hour: “I am staring out the observation deck of my orbital platform/looking at live satellite imagery of the planet on the giant screen in my War Room, as I often do at 8:30. Oh shit! All the lights have gone out! WTF happened? Where'd all the lights go? Oh, Earth Hour, eh? I guess I'd better Do Something about climate change, then.”

Politicians don't need to see people doing something stupid for an hour. They *know* people can do something stupid for an hour. That's the problem.

Take the incandescent bulb ban, for example. It was the most rational policy in the world. At \$2, a CFL bulb pays for itself in 56 days, and saves you \$118 in electricity over its 9 year lifetime. More if electricity prices go up. Even at full price, they'd still be a steal.

Uptake was slow, and there were two main reasons. 1) People were poorly informed about their benefit, safety and functionality. 2) Price signals weren't transparent – you can't tell how much of your power bill was for your lightbulbs, and how much was for your dryer. So even if your incandescent lightbulb wasted \$118 more power, you'd never know, since the price signals weren't clear to the end user. That's market failure.

You've got public *and* private good. You've got market failure. An incandescent bulb ban would have resolved it with minimal costs, saved money for consumers in the long-term and had environmental benefits. It was a win-win-win scenario. But nobody saw the Dimmer brigade coming.

“[Lighting store owner] said things were also not so bright for chandelier lovers as the sharp white light from CFLs could not bring out the sparkle in a chandelier's crystals.”

It was as if the essense of uselessness took corporeal form, put on a suit and became a lobbyist. Then came a bunch of bullshit about exploding lightbulbs based on unverified incidences of blackened bulbs. Then scientific ignorance about their mercury content conflated into urban legend, and they became little toxic bulbs of mass destruction.

Piercing through the mangled layers of bullshit was the “freedom from nanny-state” line. Arguably, this was the line that had the most impact on election day, and it was the also line that killed the hot water efficiency standards. And it was balls.

The argument is drawn from classic liberalism's core claim to freedom: That we have the inalienable right to any activity as long as it does not impinge on the rights of other citizens.

Except that nobody really believes that. Especially not the Dimmer Lobby. If they really believed in such a right, then they'd also champion the right of private individuals to make and sell consensual man-donkey-love videos. How dare the nanny-state come between a man and his right to document and commercialise his love for his donkey? Now, I know some libertarians who would gladly and publicly argue this point - and I take my hat off to them for their consistency - but the people who make this argument are not really championing absolute liberal rights. Like the rest of us, they agree that restrictions on freedoms can apply for the public good, just not when it comes to lightbulbs. And that's an indefensible position. In fact, that's a fucking stupid position.

While I'd love to extend the man-donkey-love erotica analogy, a more appropriate one would be restrictions on telecommunications equipment. It is illegal to sell telecommunications equipment that does not meet certain standards (that's why your phone has a Telepermit sticker on it).

We *could* spend hundreds of millions of dollars re-engineering our telecommunications network so that people can plug Tasers into their phone sockets without affecting their neighbour's service (maybe you can now, I don't know, the nanny-state won't let me have a Taser), but that would be stupid. Instead, we put restrictions on telecommunication devices, and we don't whinge about it being the heavy hand of the nanny-state molesting us.

Similarly, we *could* spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading our transmission lines and our generation capacity. But it's stupid to do so when we could first make substantial savings by banning inefficient lightbulbs and with more energy efficiency building standards at a fraction of the cost. (And that's not even considering climate change yet.) Sure, that's trampling people's god-given right to lightbulb-determination for the public good, but that's what democracies do every single day, with phones and drugs and food and cars - its ridiculous to argue that our right to incandescent lightbulbs is unique and sacrosanct.

The supposed principles behind the nanny-state argument was a gut-feeling at most. It never stood up when you thought about it. But nobody did, and the nanny-state argument held political currency.

A similar fate befell the hot water efficiency standards. By that time, I got to watch first-hand as the last government tried to unravel the layers of irrelevant bullshit that just kept piling on (“cold showers!” “nanny-state!” “cost for homeowners!”).

I watched as they tried to explain that the shower flow limit was just one option for increasing efficiency - you could also get some insulation for the hot water cylinder and keep the shower flow. But that was a complex sentence involving - gasp! - two inter-related clauses. Therefore, it was politically worthless. As the strands of retarded arguments built up, it quickly became too politically costly to try to explain why they were retarded. The policy got dumped in the too-hard basket - they weren't going to die in a ditch over hot water.

These were cheap, immediate, effective and economical policies. They paid for themselves and had no downside. And they're history. So what's the point in talking about the kind of climate change action that is expensive, that will spread the cost throughout the economy, that will slow down growth, that will hurt households?

Earth Hour talks a good game, but we need to get real here: We're pretty fucked. The front on climate change action in New Zealand has collapsed. Our political environment is so toxic to rational debate that the simplest, cheapest, easiest measures can get defeated by dimmer switches and pseudo-liberalism. Solidarity of the human race and global action to save the planet is all well and good... but it's perverse to talk in those terms when we can't change a lightbulb.

--

I was inspired to write the first part of this after hearing of people who turned off all the lights during Earth Hour, then lit up their fireplaces and burned candles instead. From sixth form chemistry: Burning organic material (like wax and wood) produces CO2. Tell your friends.

While I'm being a dick about this, I should also address the people who are opposing Earth Hour by joining "Edison Hour", which encourages participants to "use as much power and energy as possible in order to celebrate the advancement of mankind."

What do you think the *wheel* is, if not an energy saving device? Why do you think incandescent lightbulbs were successful? Entire fields of science and engineering - from cavemen with flint to nuclear power technicians - have advanced humanity by using less to do more.

If you want to celebrate human progress, use a CFL lightbulb and stick up a photovoltic panel. If you want to use as much power and energy as possible, just start burning shit. That is not an analogy. That is a literal intepretation of "use as much power and energy as possible". That's how fucking dumb your idea is.

Going out of your way to waste energy is the antithesis of technological progress and human enterprise, so don't you dare claim to be on the side of rationality and science. And take those goddamn chandeliers with you.

--

(Workings: Average household uses 8,000kWh/year. Earth Hour is at 8:30, just past the peak usage period, so I'll be super generous and estimate the usage at triple the average rate, putting it at an estimated 2.8kWh per hour. NZ electricity generators emit 150g of greenhouse gases for every kilowatt-hour generated (March 2007 quarterly average). Transmission losses ignored. Because I'm lazy.)

### 197 responses to this post

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• It was as if the essense of uselessness took corporeal form, put on a suit and became a lobbyist.

A Lord Sauron for consumerist, pseudo-liberal times? Brilliant!

Here in Canada there is some concern that the switch to CFL bulbs (mandatory from 2012 ... thanks to a Conservative Federal Government) may increase CO2 emissions ... at least in those areas with electricity produced through hydro.

The idea being that the reduced heat output from bulbs (powered by hydro) will be replaced by increased central heating (powered by burning natural gas).

Some explanation here.

BC Hydro estimates the lighting regulations will increase annual GHG emissions in BC Hydro’s service territory by 45,000 tonnes due to cross-effects. That is, the replacement of inefficient lights with efficient lights that produce less waste heat will lead to increased fossil fuel use for non-electric space heating.

Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

• Great stuff Keith. Am currently illuminated solely by the light of my laptop, so that's gotta count for something.

But the pressing issue for me is: with all the refuseniks and disgruntleds out there using the 'nanny state' as shorthand for whatever it is they don't like about society, has anyone asked the nannies how they feel about their job title being co-opted into political discourse as a code for wanton interferers and busybodies? Maybe the nannies should band together and hire Crosby Textor to finesse their image, or maybe just shift the blame. Librarian state? Anyone?

Wellington • Since Apr 2008 • 119 posts Report Reply

• I actually liked 'Fuck Earth Hour' better as a title.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

• Instead, we put restrictions on telecommunication devices, and we don't whinge about it being the heavy hand of the nanny-state molesting us.

Oh, it's way worse than that, Keith. We take instructions on what telecommunications devices to allow and what to restrict from an agency administered by the United Nations. I think that tells you all you need to know, comrade.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

• The people advertising Earth Hour on my campus were handing out energy-effiicient lightbulbs, which is...better than nothing. I mean, that will cause an *actual* reduction in carbon emissions.

My partner describes Earth Hour as a way to alleviate guilt, and he's so right. I wouldn't be surprised if it discourages people from doing something to actually reduce their emissions, because, hey, they participated in Earth Hour! They voted for the planet! That counts, right?

That ad campaign is really, really dumb.

Librarian state? Anyone?

I'd be careful saying that. Danielle might hear you.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

• Hat-tip to The Standard for this:

Keith's post has made me angry all over again about National's axis-of-stupidity attack on rational energy efficiency initiatives. One might hope that having won the election with the "OMG! the commie lightbulbs are coming!" message they'd settle down and do something more intelligent.

But no.

I should add that we have a houseful of CFL bulbs. Every time an old one went, my darling would replace it with a more efficient one. I generally didn't even notice.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

• Best. Post. Ever.

Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 33 posts Report Reply

• I'd be careful saying that. Danielle might hear you.

Heh. Believe me, I hate some particularly, erm, *librarianish* librarians just as much as the rest of you. Probably more. I think calling it a 'librarian state' would be vastly more accurate than 'nanny'.

(Example: nz-libs' debate about S92a actually included some tosser saying 'as an information professional, I am embarrassed by all the to-do over this issue'. O RLY?)

Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

• Best. Post. Ever.

Oh yes, I forgot to say: this post wins a 'righteous!' award.

Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

• Um, Keith, aren't you out by a factor of 1000?

60W x 3hrs x 365days = 65,700 watt hours = 66KWh ?

Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

• However, you are right. Having a small number of middle-class, aware people in developed countries make a token gesture isn't going to change anything.

Systematic energy saving measures will. So will building more wind/water poer and shutting down thermal. NZ could be on 120% renewable electricity (e.g. with zero non-renewable power and some fossil fuel replacement) by 2020. Unfortunately we're going backwards for at least the next three years.

Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

I worked at the Electricity Commission on the CFL project promoting and subsidising high quality bulbs, we got about six million out into peoples homes, saved a whole lot of \$ and energy and sparked off some market development and competition in the lighting suppliers.

CFLs are cheaper at producing power, through savings in replacing incandescant bulb usage, then building new power stations by a factor of about 7

We were not in favour of a full ban on incandescant bulbs.

We thought a market based solution with high quality products demonstrating benfits was better then forcing people into behavioural changes. We had some evidence from the UK that home owners were removing dedicated CFL fittings and putting standard light fittings in becasue they didn't like being forced into having dedicated CFLs.

There are issues with power quality when you increase the penetration rates of CFLs (they are non linear loads that cause power factor issues and harmonic problems - which can mean extra problems elsewhere in the supply system and yoour appliances). The quality of the bulbs has a major impact, banning bulbs would allow a flood of the cheaper CFLs in that excacerbate these issues.

The proposal to ban the incandescant bulb actually started in Australia when the previous environment minister (Howard Governement) recognised he had an election to win and started to make up policies without checking what the effects would be first. As the officials scrambled around to make good the ministers promise, it was recognised that under the CER agreements any ban in Australia would have impact in the NZ market too. So David Parker was pretty much forced to launch the idea here. When I left the EC the officials here were still trying to work through the details of how to not to ban the incandescant bulbs in stoves, fridges, halogens, heat lamps (both for people and animal raising) etc etc. Is not quite as simple as you might thing.

Still fully agree with concept of putting in CFLs (I did go around putting them in my families homes), but they are not a panacea.

@ dc_red - we did consider take back and heat replacement, still out weighted by the savings under the most pessimistic cases.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

• Hilarious post, possibly one of the best blog posts I've read in quite a while. Agree with Russell that it just makes you angry all over again though - insanity, absolute cave-man insanity.

Also, Andrew - are there some kind of warranty periods on the squiggly bulbs? I thought part of the "sell" was their extended lifetime but I had one that can't be more than a few months old stop working the other day and come out with a slightly blackened base. Can I take that back for a replacement?

Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

• are there some kind of warranty periods on the squiggly bulbs? I thought part of the "sell" was their extended lifetime but I had one that can't be more than a few months old stop working the other day and come out with a slightly blackened base. Can I take that back for a replacement?

There was a 2 year warrenty deal on the bulbs subsidied by the EC, you may have more luck contacting the supplier then trying to get the replacement from your local supermarket if you don't have a reciept.
Just don't stick an incandescant back in that socket, get a good CFL.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

• I worked at the Electricity Commission on the CFL project promoting and subsidising high quality bulbs, we got about six million out into peoples homes, saved a whole lot of \$ and energy and sparked off some market development and competition in the lighting suppliers.

I think price is one of the biggest factors in resistance to CFLs. We've replaced all our bulbs with them, but it's taken a long time. Just making them remotely comparable in price to incandescents would help a lot in converting people to them. Yeah, I know they probably work out cheaper over the long period, but it's an example of the boots theory of economics.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

• Keith's post has made me angry all over again about National's axis-of-stupidity attack on rational energy efficiency initiatives. One might hope that having won the election with the "OMG! the commie lightbulbs are coming!" message they'd settle down and do something more intelligent.

It sounds increasingly like the sort of stuff President Obama launched an intellectual nuke at, but with light bulbs instead of tyre pressures.

Again, what if Obama, Gordon Brown et al were to make energy efficiency and carbon reduction conditions of a free trade agreement? Would it be the lobbyists who pushed for an FTA under Dubya who'd now be whingeing about Yankee paternalism?

And what if a tourist does a Nicky Hager and writes an eco-exposé on NZ, regardless of the truth or not?

The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5443 posts Report Reply

• Just don't stick an incandescant back in that socket, get a good CFL.

Oh yeah, definitely. We only buy CFL's now.
Thanks, think it was Signature Range one so Foodtown are the supplier effectively.

Isn't there some great little NZ company producing really good ones, bulbs that have a much higher "brightness output"?

Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

• We had some evidence from the UK that home owners were removing dedicated CFL fittings and putting standard light fittings in becasue they didn't like being forced into having dedicated CFLs.

Ah yes. Garth George claimed in his Herald column to have been making plans to stockpile the old bulbs. You can't fight butt-headed stupidity, I guess ...

The proposal to ban the incandescant bulb actually started in Australia ..

Fascinating. I never knew that.

So David Parker was pretty much forced to launch the idea here. When I left the EC the officials here were still trying to work through the details of how to not to ban the incandescant bulbs in stoves, fridges, halogens, heat lamps (both for people and animal raising) etc etc. Is not quite as simple as you might thing.

Wasn't it phrased as a phase-out rather than a ban anyway? Having abandoned the scheme, Brownlee has gone notably quiet on providing the information that was supposed to let people decide for themselves.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

• Isn't there some great little NZ company producing really good ones, bulbs that have a much higher "brightness output"?

Interestingly the two other people who worked with me at the EC are now working for Energymad selling these CFLs around the world...

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

• Garth George claimed in his Herald column to have been making plans to stockpile the old bulbs.

Wow Garth, elaborate plan. I'm going to stockpile the bulbs! There, plan done.

Do I dare ask WHY he was going to? Scratch that, the less exposure I have to that bitter old thoughtprocess the healthier I'll be I imagine.

Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

• We replaced the light fittings in our lounge from incandescents to CFLs. The CFL fittings looked nicer and apart from taking some time to "warm up" they produced a nice illuminations for the lounge.

BUT

We then had to repaint the whole lounge ceiling because the fittings were a little bit smaller and the paint that was previously hidden had not changed colour the way the rest had.

I'm not sure the environmental cost of the new paint has been paid off yet :(.

And then wierdly we have one fitting where the CFL keeps blowing out, average lifetime about 1 month. At the moment it is an empty socket which saves even more power but leaves me somewhat concerned about the quality of our wiring.

Doing the right thing can get complicated.

So how do you know it's a "good quality" CFL?

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

• I hate earth hour! It just feels so sanctimonious and smug. I think I'll go and turn on every light and apppliance while its on ;-)

I was pissed off with the ban on incandesant bulbs, just because of the way it was done - I'd already swapped most of mine over, quite happily, but I didn't like having another ban imposed.This is one area where the market would have led people naturally to the better environmental choice.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 230 posts Report Reply

• The big problem here was the politicization of the CFL. People just don't like being told what to do by a party that they don't like. However, I have to admit that I don't particularly like the light given off by CFL's but word has it that they will be available in different colours soon. As Andrew pointed out there are situations where only an incandescent bulb will do the job and to legislate for this would be a nightmare.
Saving power is a good thing in terms of pollution and economics. Why this Government is determined to ignore this fact I am at a loss to explain but I suspect it is rooted in the odd belief that what is good for one (rich prick) is good for the nation. I suspect that the electricity generators and retailers want us to consume as much power as we can and abhor the idea of efficiency and as such have lobbied hard to remove the legislation around CFLs.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I do not agree with the CO2 = Global Warming hypothesis. Studies have shown that, although there is a correlation between CO2 levels and Global Warming, a rise in CO2 follows a rise in temperature so CO2 cannot be the cause.
But, Global warming is a big business in itself. Ask any academic looking for funding, If you want funding all you have to do is append the name of your study with the words "With regard to Global Warming" and you're home and hosed.

Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

• So how do you know it's a "good quality" CFL?

The ones supported by the EC have to meet very high standards, see CFL Programme

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

• While I'm being a dick about this, I should also address the people who are opposing Earth Hour by joining "Edison Hour", which encourages participants to "use as much power and energy as possible in order to celebrate the advancement of mankind."