Life

Make Whoopee, Not Carbon!

Earth Hour could have been sold so much better.

By Shannon Rupp 28 Mar 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Read more of her columns.

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Baby boomlet in nine months?

Reading about this Saturday's international Earth Hour in the Globe and Mail leads me to one conclusion: it's time to invest in Saskatchewan prairie, because it's bound to be waterfront.

Am I alone in thinking the environmental movement is doomed to fail because it just doesn't understand that most people are not interested in donning hair-shirts for carbon reduction?

When the World Wildlife Fund asks us to turn out the lights for an hour on Sat., March 29 at 8 p.m. local time, what do they propose we do instead? Other than virtuously calculate the impact our actions will have on the collective carbon footprint, that is.

They suggest organizing our very own Earth Hour events with humiliation parties including karaoke or trivia games. Suffering-with-questions? What is this: the Environmental Inquisition?

The site features photos of earnest folk holding candles, sitting in a circle, and (presumably) singing "Kumbaya." It looks like a church camp-out, just the thought of which makes me shudder. And speculate. Now let me get this straight: it's lights out at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, and candles are de rigueur, but the first activity that comes to their minds is karaoke?

Population explosion due

As an old-fashioned reporter, I did what I had been taught to when covering blackouts: jotted down the date nine months hence. Note to self, check for baby boomlet in December. That's sure to be one measure of the event's success.

Last year's original Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia was measured in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. When 2.2 million people and 2100 businesses, including the iconic opera house, went lights-free for 60 minutes, their small action caused a 10 per cent drop in the electricity grid. That saved 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of removing almost 50,000 cars from the road for an hour. But I think my measure-of-success is more fun.

Of course, fun is the last word on the lips of too many activists. Why is environmentalism always about deprivation, sacrifice, and more deprivation? Is it mandatory to adopt that almost religious zeal that demands we all repent and suffer for our previous excesses?

Really, if the world is ending don't we just want to go on partying like it's 1975? How can we be persuaded to change our evil carbon-frittering ways when the image of the coming carbon-wasting hell doesn't look much worse than life in a carbon-neutral heaven. Frankly, a choice between floods and sing-alongs is really no choice at all.

So I'd like to propose a less earnest approach. I can see the slogan for Earth Hour now: "Make Babies Not Carbon."

We'll be rich, I tell you

Consider the sponsorship potential: Pampers, Gerbers, Fisher-Price, Baby Gap, Mattel -- and what's the high-priced Italian stroller maker? Purveyors of all sorts of baby products would be salivating at the thought of cute ads for Earth Hour along with the products you will need a year from now. The commercials will practically write themselves, and if they don't, I'm available.

A little TV advertising might be just what is needed to encourage more than 48,000 people -- the paltry number that has signed up this year -- to commit to an hour in the dark.

Apparently four Canadian cities have agreed to participate in Earth Hour: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and also Vancouver, where the Vancouver Sun is one of the local "partners" promoting the event, along with the City of Vancouver and B.C. Hydro.

The Canadian government is always looking for more future pension providers: maybe they could get behind Earth Hour with some tax incentives hooked to December births?

Alternatively, the slogan could be "Make Whoopee Not Carbon." Again, there is a deep pool of sponsors just waiting for someone to take the plunge: Trojan, Victoria's Secret, and those men's body sprays that have to redeem themselves for making the halls of high schools a new environmental hazard.

Hooking up 2.0

Is there a marketer who doesn't have "social networking" on the tip of his tongue? Why aren't they running an Earth Hour networking site for those who want to meet at local Earth Hour parties? Think of it as a sort of face-to-face Facebook, with an open bar meet-and-greet at 5 p.m. and a candlelight party to follow.

Men it seems are always trying out pick-up lines. So how about a flirtatious investigation into what that nice woman minding her own business in the yogurt aisle is planning to do in the dark for an hour on Saturday night? If she already knows about Earth Hour, you'll make a friend. If she doesn't, you'll impress her with your social responsibility. And if she kicks you to the curb, don't blame me. (Do I look like Dan Savage?)

Yes, we have lemons here, but how about a little lemonade, preferably spiked with vodka?

Dark prospects

Having seen the potential of a candlelit evening, I've decided to turn out the lights and I asked Antler Boy (so named for the scavenged set of un-ironic antlers sitting on his fireplace mantel) what he is planning to do for the power-free hour. As a biologist and former activist whose eco-warrier tendencies once landed him in jail, I thought he might have some inspiration. Which he did, but only after I explained Earth Hour.

"I think I'll turn on all the lights -- that'll do just as much good," he said, deadpan. "These voluntary things are a waste of time. It's too late for that. We've squandered our opportunities to fix this for years now, and we've run out of options. There has to be legislation."

"But what about a "Make Whoopee Not Carbon" campaign?" I asked, smiling sweetly and stopping just short of batting my lashes.

He fixed me with that bemused stare he reserves for my most innovative schemes: "Are you serious?"

Right. Oh, I still plan to turn off the lights on Saturday night and, apparently, sit alone in the dark. But I'm taking no chances -- it's obviously time to find a real estate broker in Saskatchewan.

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