Monday, March 30, 2015

Department of Self-Defeating Symbolism

This photograph was captioned
Fireworks go off at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House to signal the start of the Earth Hour environmental campaign.
Earth Hour, of course, was an event in which people were supposed to turn off their lights for an hour to
raise awareness of the need for sustainable energy use, and this year also to demand action to halt planet-harming climate change.


G. Verloren said...

Self-defeating symbolism? How so?

The impact of even a major fireworks show on climate change is staggeringly negligible compared to the real day-to-day contributors, so it's not like there's some significant irony in shooting off fireworks to promote public awareness.

Or is some other aspect of the symbolism somehow self-defeating? The lights on the bridge and in the background buildings still being on, perhaps? Do note that the fireworks show signalled the start of the hour of darkness, which for all we know didn't go into effect until the show ended.

To be brutally honest, turning off all of Sydney's lights for a single hour isn't going to make so much as a blip on the charts. Even if you did it once a week for a year, that's still only 52 hours out of 8,765 total. It might save some money, but it isn't going to substantially impact the environment.

But that's not the point. This is nothing more and nothing less than a publicity stunt.

You shoot off some fireworks, you repeat some key buzz phrases about "sustainable energy", and hopefully you end up producing a small net effect on the broader culture, nudging people in the direction of subconsciously supporting sustainable energy alternatives. It's not remotely trying to incite massive change - it's merely trying to chip away a bit at the giant mountain of passive resistance and ennui that stands in the way of progress.

Yes, of course a large part of the motivation is that it's good PR for the city and helps mayors and city council members and whatnot with their election campaigns. Yes, of course it's a cheap investment with vague and uncertain returns rather than a major decisive measure aimed at producing tangible, meaningful change in the short and long terms.

But at the same time, it's actually probably going to have at least a slight effect on the general populace, and anything that makes the slow societal and cultural transition to sustainable energy less painful in the longrun is probably worth bothering with.

John said...

The symbolism of the original idea was for cities to GO DARK. Setting off fireworks totally defeats that notion, rendering the whole business silly.