Sunday, March 25, 2012

Achievement? HAH!

Up to now, I've made it a point to stay well clear of the Sun News Network, Canada's own bush-league Fox News; I'm hardly the only Canadian to do so, since one of the problems Sun News has struggled with since its inception is viewership and the lack of same, particularly in the demographics that advertisers covet. That's not much of a problem, though - they can, and do, compensate by being so dedicated to the claim they've staked in the political landscape that the people who cluster around there will never stray. It's easy to forget about Sun News completely; in fact, I did forget it existed for a few months there, until some notes on Twitter started reminding me of it.

In six days, it'll be Earth Hour; this will be the fifth consecutive global recognition of it, and it didn't take long for some people to start polishing their knives for it. The "movement," such as it is, seems like it may be beginning to coalesce around something called Human Achievement Hour, originally promoted by a libertarian think tank and which I wrote about two years ago, when it was still fresh in the news cycle. But don't ever accuse the Sun News Network of passing up on a tack that fits with its ideology; after all, everything's new to someone. With that in mind, I took some time out of my day to watch a clip in which Ezra Levant laid out his case for spitting in Earth Hour's eye.

"I will never celebrate underachivement and lack the way eco-whackjobs want us to," says Levant, capping off the two minutes and forty-four seconds he spent furiously assembling one of the nakedest strawmen I've ever seen in the media. To him, Earth Hour symbolizes "repudiation, renunciation, and devaluation of people." It suggests "the world is better without human ingenuity," and that prosperity and progress are "the problem, instead of the solution." He brings out the satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula, contrasting the bright lights of South Korea with the empty darkness of the North - a North where, to hear Levant tell it, it's "Earth Hour all the time."

So all this time, Earth Hour wasn't about reflection about humanity's role in the environment, or trying to raise awareness of what's going on? Turning electrical appliances off for an hour denigrates humanity? My god... now I finally understand. All those times when I was a kid and my mom told me to turn off the TV if I was leaving the room, she didn't want to make sure our hydro bill was as low as it could be; she was devaluing my worth as a human being, because obviously, the only real way to measure our worth is by how much energy we consume! That's why I'm no doubt a worthless, self-denigrating envirotard because my average daily power consumption, according to New Westminster Utilities, is somewhere in the neighborhood of two kilowatt-hours - so roughly seven hundred and thirty kilowatt-hours per year, compared to a national average of nearly seventeen thousand.

I need to make up that shortfall somehow if I don't want to be devalued! I should go and buy a diesel generator, fill it up, and run it all day without connecting it to anything! After all, according to ol' Ezra that's the way to celebrate Human Achievement Hour; turn everything on! Even your blenders! You do have multiple blenders, don't you, citizen?

Pictured: human achievement. Wait, shit! I forgot that wind turbines are beloved by environmentalists and are therefore denigrating to humanity and don't count!

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I don't believe that there's anything wrong with the concept of a Human Achievement Hour. It would be instructive, I think, for the average person to have a better understanding of the ways in which humans have reshaped the planet, from laudable things like the Dutch reclamation of the Zuiderzee, to failures like the devastation of Kazakhstan's topsoil thanks to Nikita Khrushchev's Virgin Lands Campaign and the drying-up of the Aral Sea. Besides, those failures were both set in motion by the policies of the Soviet Union, so why wouldn't right-wing media folks like Ezra Levant want to trumpet them?

He's also got a point about electricity, and the key importance it holds in modern civilization. Life without electricity generally is poor life, by any reasonable modern metric, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks facing a developing country is how to deliver a reliable electricity supply to its people. That's why China is building coal power stations at such a breakneck pace; as far as it's concerned, the ability to supply electricity to its people is of greater importance than air you can't skewer on a fork. All together, human innovation and achievement have granted us a prosperity and capacity for action unprecedented in history, and that's something that everyone should be able to recognize.

What's less recognized is that with great power comes great responsibility. Whether or not we own up to it, we're still responsible to ourselves, to the planet, and to those generations that will come after us. We have the capacity to step away from choices that were made decades and centuries ago, to take careful stock of the world around us and consider choosing a new path.

That's not the way Ezra tells it, though. According to him, Earth Hour represents a time when "the elites will tell you to flip the switch off of innovation!" Yes, because our continuing dedication to fossil fuels to supply our electricity - something which was discovered in the nineteenth century - is so innovative. That's not all - Ezra helpfully provides us with a timeline of progress, detailing what he presumably believes are the key inventions underpinning the modern world: Edison's lightbulb, Ford's Model T, John Logie Baird's television, and Steve Jobs' iPad.

Wait, what? The goddamned iPad as a symbol of human innovation and achievement? To me, it underscores how simple and facile and purely conventional this list is. Where are the truly innovative answers and the revolutionary inventions? Where's the washing machine or the pill, which helped liberate women from toil and drudgery around the world? Where's the innovation of learning how to draw power directly from the environment? Where's the telephone or the internet, which expanded the sphere of human communication from the room to the planet? For that matter, where's writing?

I'm still having some trouble believing that the video is real, that it's not some parody dreamed up by a Canadian version of the Onion. Whatever cogent points may exist around Ezra Levant's argument are burned away while he dials up the heat, turns on all the lights, runs a blender just because he can in what feels like the smuggest, smarmiest manner possible. To me, it's as if someone criticized the moment of silence on Remembrance Day because it "implies that the world is better without countries fighting for justice, for what they believe in."

The world is a lot more complicated than that.

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