Americans take reliable and affordable energy so much for granted that they've developed a mindless contempt for the companies and people that provide it to them. They must think their homes are electrified and heated by magic, given the disdain they show for coal mines, drilling rigs, power plants, nuclear reactors, transmission towers and pipelines, and judging from the vilification they heap on evil energy companies, which routinely are portrayed as the murderers of Mother Earth.
One demonstration of that contempt comes Saturday, with the annual celebration of "Earth Hour," when "millions of people around the world" will turn off their lights for one hour in order "to make their stand against climate change." Energy use = global catastrophe: that's the dangerously simplistic equation touted by the dim bulbs who thought up Earth Hour. The only way we can "save the planet" is by turning off the lights, parking our cars and crawling back to the dank caves from whence we came, much to the planet's misfortune.
Light has always been synonymous with civilization. It was long believed to be a friend to humankind (thank you, Prometheus). Earth Hour turns it into the enemy of the planet.
Energy providers take this abuse in stride: they've been so badgered into submission by eco-Luddites that they can barely rise to their own defense. They seem apologetic and ashamed -- some probably even sponsor Earth Hour events and distribute pro-Earth Hour propaganda in an effort to placate their implacable critics.
But I have an idea that might help them turn public perceptions around.
I propose a counter-event called "Energy Hour," which would also occur once a year, but at a randomly-selected time. All at once, on cue, all the world's energy providers would suspend operations for an hour (maybe longer if you really want to make things interesting), plunging the planet into darkness, cold and immobility. The lights would go off. The computers would stop. Electric appliances would not work. Gas tanks would go dry. Streets would be gridlocked. Apprehension and uncertainly would grip most of the industrialized world, as the people waited anxiously and prayerfully for the light to return.
Maybe the worldwide standstill that would result -- maybe the disruptions, the danger, the discomfort and the desperation that would occur if civilization were for even an hour taken "off the grid" -- would remind disconnected moderns of the debt they owe to energy providers. Maybe they'll understand, once again, that electricity doesn't come from light switches, and that without drilling rigs, their cars become inanimate objects.
It probably won't take more than one or two Energy Hours before the Earth Hour movement loses its mojo, and before people take a more rational, balanced and appreciative view of the energy sector. Maybe we'll see a halt to the regulatory warfare waged on energy producers. Maybe we'll get a national energy policy based on realism, not pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams.
Happy "Energy Hour," everyone! Take a moment this weekend to savor all the comforts, conveniences and benefits that come from living in this gloriously energy-dependent society.