Thursday, February 01, 2007

Climate change: educating or trivializing?

I just returned from Paris, and I'm not sure what to think of that initiative consisting of turning "all" lights off, including those on the Eiffel Tower and other European monuments, for five minutes between 19h55 and 20h00 tonight.

The French Alliance for the Planet which is at the origin of this initiative says it's a great educational stunt on the eve of the official presentation of the first volume of the Fourth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Maybe, but I'm skeptical.

As I explained a couple of months ago in a commentary on my experience with Al Gore's great film , I can't help thinking of the paradox whereby increasingly public authorities are deploying educational tools to convince ordinary people to switch off lights, computers or TV sets when they are not needed, while corporations keep wasting energy with street advertisement lightening to sell all sorts of junks (or only to reaffirm their presence).

As I wrote in November, of course everyone has a role to play and I agree that individual gestures by ordinary people count. But why aren’t governments using their regulatory power to also switch off unnecessary street advertisement lightening?

I remember that in 1973, as soon as the first oil crisis took place, governments were very prompt in banning neon advertising (at least in France and other European countries where I lived at the time).

Now, everyone knows that there is another fuel crisis called Climate change (let alone other contemporary concerns over the security of energy supplies), but we seem to be able to switch off the lights of only a few monuments. And only for five minutes.

The everynight show of lights on the Eiffel Tower is fairly recent; it certainly did not exist when I was a kid and even a young adult. If the municipality of Paris and other cities want to show that they are serious about stopping energy wastage, they should turn off unnecessary lights for good. And not for five minutes.

I'm sorry, but there is a very fine line between educating and trivializing.

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