This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Khuluma magazine in June 2011
I got into trouble the other day for failing to sign a petition. This was shortly after I had ignored Earth Hour and completely forgotten to change my Facebook picture to an image of a pink ribbon or a panda or a penguin or whatever it was supposed to be that week.
Earth Hour (when we are encouraged to support the battle against global warming by switching off our lights for an hour) in particular, gets my goat. “Do your bit to save the world! No. Saving the world (or at least, your teeny tiny part of it) would involve not having your lights on at 8pm on a Saturday night in the first place. Well, certainly not the lights in your office, which you must have left burning since 3:54pm on Friday afternoon when you snuck out early.
This bumper sticker activism is even worse than green washing. At least when we come across a company that is spinning themselves a green policy, it is kind of fun to poke holes in it and hold it up to ridicule. But mocking the sweet earnestness with which the couch activist embarks on their campaign makes the whole thing about as fun as kitten hunting.
Think about how a coal fired power station works. You put in coal one end, it gets burnt, water is heated and steam is generated and that drives a huge turbine that, through magic or something, produces electricity. There isn’t some guy in grubby dungarees and an Eskom cap waiting for you to flick a switch, giving him the signal that you need some electricity. No. That coal is getting shovelled in there at a rate of knots regardless of what you are doing on your end. And this is how we want it. The feel good backslapping is as nothing compared to the bleating we would hear if, come 9pm on Earth Hour evening, we tried to switch our lights back on and discovered that the chap in the dungarees had taken us seriously and shut everything down for the night.
I realise that we all have to start somewhere, but we’ve been ‘starting somewhere’ for years now. Your average green campaign is about as progressive as my running career. I’ve spent literally decades coming back from injury and ‘finally getting myself fit again’ . My 5k times are the running equivalent of Oprah’s waist line. And all this yo-yoing, while keeping me busy and allowing me to continue to call myself a runner, doesn’t actually mean that I am getting much faster over the years. It’s the same with most popular save the earth drives. They make a lot of noise, and there is the pleasurable sense of a Saturday afternoon well spent, but every year there are fewer tigers, and more carbon dioxide and smellier rivers.
If you want to help, make changes that permanently cut down your lights and water bill. THAT’S starting somewhere. And maybe take a little of that freed up cash and post it off to the guys at the front line of the real battle to save our environment. Who are they? Well, there’s thousands of them, but here’s a clue – none of them are collecting signatures for petitions.