Questioning the Questioners – Tribal Seduction on Earth Hour

March 28, 2009 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: Zen.

I’m going to talk about the great climate change debate seeing as I’m in the mood. This mood started with a tweet from @RobMcNealy last night

Is Earth Hour Tribal Seduction?

The article, full title Is Earth Hour the Ultimate Tribal Seduction? is certainly very interesting and the leading video is a dig at the “insidious” nature of Earth Hour. Well I don’t know what’s so insidious about Earth Hour so let’s just assume that was a tongue-in-cheek comment and delve further shall we?

The author of the article, John Paul Micek or J.P. as he likes to be known, starts off with a good question; what’s the point of Earth Hour? after all as he quite rightly quotes the organisers of Earth Hour last year as admitting the event

“would have little impact on carbon emissions.”

But hold on a second, that’s all the organisers said? If so then there certainly does seem to be little point to Earth Hour apart from switching off the lights for one hour in a celebration of pointless global proportions.

However if you read the 2008 report from news agency Reuters entitled “Earth Hour” goes global then James Leape from WWF actually says, in addition to admitting there would be little impact in reducing carbon emissions;

“Earth Hour shows that everyday people are prepared to pull together to find a solution to climate change. It can be done,”

This statement is mirrored by a quote from the Mayor of San Fransisco, Gavin Newsom, who says:

“It is not just about turning off the lights, it is about raising awareness. Energy efficiency is low-hanging fruit. Energy efficiency is the easiest thing we can do.”

So, a few points arise from this brief analysis. Firstly it seems that the organisers of Earth Day have been selectively misquoted. Yes, the event was expected to have little impact on carbon reduction but J.P. failed to inform us of the act of raising awareness of energy efficiency. All of which is a shame really because, as J.P. himself states later in the article that a journalist must;

Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

This is indeed one of the guidelines from the Society of Professional Journalists in their Code of Ethics so not producing the full facts or context of the goals of Earth Hour is a misrepresentation in itself.

The second point is the goal of increasing awareness of the Earth Hour campaign and the issue of energy use and the affects on the climate. Last year the goal was to have 30 million people participate in Earth Hour. In 2009 the WWF want an ambitious 1 billion participants. Whether last year they achieved that figure or not I don’t know and this year’s figure does seem a tall order to say the least. From less than 1% of the world’s population to around 16% is a huge jump but good luck to Earth Hour.

With the incorrect focus of “no apparent tangible benefit” J.P. continues to argue that Earth Hour

“might just be one of the greatest feats of MASS Tribal Seduction ever executed.”

Having a fundamental flaw in the basis of this initial argument has negatively affected the legitimacy of the “logic” flowing form that point onwards. What’s more is that the article continues:

“Mass participation in a global event that has no outcome other than for people feel good about themselves. But that’s up to you to decide.”

That’s very clever – empowering the reader to make up their own mind based upon a deliberately limited set of values. As said earlier, yes, the results on energy use for just one hour might have very little impact themselves but the obvious point of the exercise is that the seed of saving energy will have been sown. Saying that there is no benefit other than a feelgood factor shows contempt for those that wish to make a longer-lasting impact. I would urge everybody to be sceptical but when scepticism goes too far it can turn into cynicism and raw cynicism can be very unhealthy.

Despite a smattering of the term “neutral” and references to the journalistic code of ethics, the agenda is set by the article’s response to “global warming” and that it’s a man-made phenomenon. J.P. says “so what?” to global warming and that it’s man-made is B.S. or bullshit to use the full phrase. There is validity to these points but let’s dissect these too, shall we?

Global warming is dismissed in the article as a natural cycle. True, global warming is part of the natural cycle as is global cooling. Using a press release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics entitled 20th Century Climate Not So Hot is the one article from 2003 that J.P. attempts to prove this point with, claiming that these are:

Two institutions that could hardly be tagged as being in the pockets of “big oil.”

Maybe there is no evidence that the institutions themselves are funded by “big oil” but just look at three of the report’s co-authors;

Craig Idso

Craig D. Idso is the founder and chairman of the board of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which is funded at least in part by the ExxonMobil Foundation

Sherwood Idso

Sherwood B. Idso assumed the Presidency of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change on 4 October 2001.

David Legates

“The Union of Concerned Scientists published a study listing Legates among several scientists it described as “familiar spokespeople from ExxonMobil-funded organizations”

Once again, a failure to present the reader with the full facts has devalued any association with the ethics of the journalistic code of conduct. In the vein of the Tribal Seduction article, ask yourself this: why did the Centre for Astrophysics issue a press release on earthly climate change when their focus is primarily and predominantly with observations of the universe?

Continuing with the story we are presented with quotes from an article in to which the link is unfortunately missing but here it is if you wish to see it for yourself in full, including the comments & reactions to the article; Temperature Monitors Report Widescale Global Cooling is actually based on flawed and misrepresented data, with the evidence to the contrary to be seen from Tim Lambert with further support form James Hansen.

As for climate change being man-made let’s not be pedantic here but climate change is certainly affected by the activities of man.

Now unfortunately I have to cut this autopsy short as I have other pressing engagements to attend to but I did enjoy the Tribal Seduction article despite its obvious & deep flaws. A fact check of the missing information above does show that the article’s attempts of neutrality are incorrect and rather than “true centre” they are more “centre-right”. The approach of the article is from a pre-determined viewpoint and hence there is genuine dispute of the authenticity of the self-trumpted lack of bias, which is quite ironic really.

Enjoy tonight’s Earth Hour and think beyond that one hour and make energy efficiency part of your everyday routine; it’s not just a one-hour feelgood factor but an important exercise in how we interact with the world around us in terms of how much we consume,  in terms of finite resources and the impact that can have on society and the environment.

Climate change sceptics (cynics?) may try to tell you that it’s all a waste of time, but don’t be persuaded by the hidden persuaders. Question everything even those who tell you to question everything. Furnish yourself with as many facts as possible before jumping in feet first. Use your head instead.

And ultimately what is the cost of inactivity? Try disputing the content of this video. Forget the scary title, just focus on the logic and truly draw your own conclusions.

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