Lights Off… Did the Earth Hour Move for You?

Earth Hour 2008 ‘happened’ yesterday. Except it didn’t. The whole point is that nothing happens.

Created to take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced, Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming. 

Except that this wasn’t a message, because anybody who wasn’t involved wouldn’t have been able to witness anything. Everyone who was involved would have been reflecting on the “greatest threat our planet has ever faced” silently, while everyone else carried on about their business, oblivious to the most pointless demonstration in the planet’s history.

Even if anyone had noticed, what would the “powerful message” have been? “Look, we don’t have any lights on”.

The organisers tell us that “Earth Hour 2008 was a global movement.” But this form of action is in fact inaction. Environmentalist campaigns may consider themselves “movements”, but in fact, they are characterised by antipathy towards any form of movement whatsoever, like last year’s Climate Camp at Heathrow Airport was, for example.

Similarly, Friends of the Earth’s campaign The Big Ask Virtual Web March is about channeling the collective apathy of the environmental non-movement to create a database of video whinges about modern life. Tellingly, it boasts many more contributors than they could muster at any real-world march.

The environmental unmovement is not only confused about what is action and what is inaction, but also what is progressive, and what is retrogressive. A consequence – could it ever been realised – of dragging the developed world back to primative technologies and basic lifestyles is that the expression of political action will also be limited. The environmental unmovement is against mass movements. Literally. And it is by depriving mass movements of the means of action that the environmental unmovement becomes a retrogressive and deeply conservative force.

Activism 2.0 : The Big World Wide Whinge

Good news for armchair activists… You can change the world from the comfort of your own webcam. Environmentalism’s real-world rallies have proved unpopular in the past, resulting in a chaotic alliance of anti-capitalist anarchists, NIMBYs , hippies, and ossified socialists – more often than not resembling an embarrassing unwashed and shoddy circus than a planet-wide movement of change. Now concerned citizens can express their deepest anxieties about the future and their general sense of dissatisfaction about the world, online…

What better way of channeling the collective apathy of the environmental ‘movement’ than getting the citizens of the web to author their own video messages to Gordon Brown? The Big Ask Web March – is a virtual rally organised by Friends of the Earth, comprising clips of people asking MPs for ‘strong climate law’.

Heading the line up of self-important celebrities desperate to prove themselves more than pop stars are whiny toff, James ‘yor bew-tee-fuh-ul’ Blunt, and whinger’s whinger, Thom ‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo’ Yorke, who threatens to ‘come down’ on Gordon Brown ‘like a ton of bricks’. (What’s he going to do? Sing him a depressing song?)

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Mark ‘there’s only one way of life and that’s your own’ Chadwick – of the agit-pop-folk outfit The Levellers tells us from his position of authority on the subject of climate science… as a pop star… that people have to make ‘very harsh personal decisions about how they’re going to live their life from now on’, and then calls for legislation, otherwise ‘it will be too late’. It’s a funny kind of ‘personal decision’ that cannot be made without legislation. And a funny kind of Leveller who calls for legislation to force recalcitrants to make the right personal decisions.

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Ben McLelland from Band From County Hell (who we’ve never heard of) lacks the lyrical spontaneity (and balls) of his Rock Star colleagues, lets his mummy tell us that with ‘knocking on the right doors and asking the right questions a difference can start to happen’. Whatever that difference is, we’re not sure – she doesn’t say.

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No less vague about what it is they are being asked to say, let alone which doors they are knocking on, or questions they are asking are two members of Magic Skool Bus. Speaking from the Wychwood Festival of Clichés, Rory and Lee, tell us that ‘human beings have to be worried about the climate change’, and that FOE’s campaign is ‘telling us that we have a voice’ and that ‘we should use it to spread the word’ to ‘change government legislation’ because ‘there’s a lot more than can be done’.

We at Climate Resistance have no time for celebrities lecturing us about climate change. None of the celebrities speaking on behalf of the campaign appear to have a clue what it is even about. It is the most shameful indictment of Friends of the Earth that they have to recruit pop-stars to endorse their project because it lacks the content to generate its own momentum. The constituency of this campaign are not politically-engaged individuals, but inebriated festival goers and adoring fans – the two least critically-minded groups we can think of.

And what kind of demonstration calls for more law – especially law which regulates lifestyle and consumption? Could we imagine the serfs of 18th century France, demanding ‘less cake’? Polite requests for less freedom and lower living standards hardly sound like the stuff of mass movements, yet this is what FOE imagine 200,000 video clips will make them. As previous slogans have told us, ‘la révolution est dans la rue’, and ‘The revolution will not be televised’. By televising itself, away from the streets, The Big Ask reveals a protest movement which is neither: it is vague about what it asks for – rather than clearly demands. It is not an expression of collective will, but a database of whinges from individuals whose efforts to change the world only seem to extend as far as pressing ‘record’ and ‘send’… Just as it thinks turning the TV off, rather than leaving it on standby, is a world-changing action.

Here’s a thought… Has online protest contributed to the “obesity epidemic”? As everybody knows, fat people cause climate change.