Tomorrow's world-wide celebration of Earth Hour shows a significant lack of appreciation for the benefits of electricity.
To help understand this, let's imagine our country without electricity for weeks-or months-instead of just one hour.
Almost a year ago, pictures of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un and his supposed "U.S. Mainland Strike Plan" map targeting 4 U.S cities, including Austin, TX, raised questions around the world about North Korea's military capabilities. Can North Korea launch an EMP attack on the United States?
An EMP or Electromagnetic pulse attack is not the kind of attack one usually thinks about when terrorists or rogue states are involved. Yet, they constitute a real threat, whose effects could be as lethal in the long term as a nuclear attack. What is an EMP exactly? The Heritage Foundation describes it this way:
An EMP is a high intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by a rapid acceleration of charges particles. An EMP can change the magnetic field in the earth's atmosphere to disrupt electronic devices by a pulse flowing through electricity transmission lines, overloading and damaging transmission distribution centers. According to Heritage's James Carafano, in the event of an EMP, "communications would collapse, transportation would halt, and electrical power would simply be nonexistent."
Put simply, an EMP attack on a national scale would be as if someone switched off the entire electrical power grid. There would be no deaths resulting directly from the EMP; they would result from the consequences of a sustained power outage. Your car would instantly stop working, as would your phone or any other electrical device; planes would fall from the sky; food would spoil from lack of refrigeration; the food infrastructure itself would collapse; water treatment would become impossible. The targeted electrical power grid would be damaged beyond simple repairs: we are not talking about a 1-hour blackout, or even a week or two without electricity. We are talking starting over from nothing, some kind of new age of the dark ages if you will, only literally. And we are not prepared for this.
If that sounds scary to you, consider the following.
While countries such as North Korea and Iran have been looking to acquire EMP capabilities, the civilized world is getting ready to celebrate Earth Hour by symbolically renouncing the comfort of electricity by turning the lights out during one hour as an acknowledgement that modern technology is having an impact on the environment. I use the term "civilized" to underline that not everyone enjoys the luxury of the celebration of Earth Hour. Imagine the shocked puzzlement of a starving, Ethiopian child and the other millions of people still without access to electricity trying to comprehend the concept behind Earth Hour.
Just think about it for a moment. No electricity means having to make a fire to cook your dinner and to heat your home; doing the laundry with your hands and cold water; no dishwasher; no curling iron; no elevator; no computer; no refrigerator, reading by the candlelight. And don't even think about tweeting live what's happening to the world: your phone would have permanently stopped working by then. There would be no more Twitter (Oh the humanity!). Is that really what we want for the future of the planet? Why would anyone want to even symbolically renounce all this?
Of course, we are repeatedly told that Earth Hour is just about the symbol (this is another symbol) and is just for one hour. Last year though, the official website for the event hinted that "turning the lights out was only the beginning" and asked people to "join us and go beyond the hour to protect our planet." Isn't it important that modern technology, starting with electricity, has bettered the lot of millions of people? Or that an unintended consequence of the event could actually be an upsurge resulting in increased carbon emissions?
Symbolically going back in time technologically is not going to solve environmental issues. It only sends the message that the technology we decide to renounce for an hour is the problem. It is not.
On March 29th, the day Earth Hour is bound to happen, I will keep the lights on in honor of human achievement and in defiance of anyone who would like to see our lights turned off. And I know that I won't be the only one seeing modern technology as a blessing from human achievement.