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Lights Out?

RIO DE JANEIRO – When it comes to all things “green, ” common sense seems to have been abandoned. Our failure to think clearly about such matters would be amusing if the potential consequences were not so serious.

Consider the recent “lights out” campaign that supposedly should energize the world about the problems of climate change by urging citizens in 27 big cities to turn out their lights for an hour. With scores of companies and municipalities signing up, and even the monarchies of Denmark and Sweden turning off the lights in their many palaces, the World Wildlife Fund quickly called it an amazing success. Newspapers around the world dutifully wrote feel-good stories about how engaged environmentalists celebrated as the lights went out around the world.

Nobody, it seemed, wanted to spoil the party by pointing that the event was immensely futile, that it highlighted a horrible metaphor, or that it caused much higher overall pollution.

Danish newspapers – coincidentally in the native country of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – happily quoted the WWF regarding the event’s overwhelming success. But the entire savings (assuming people didn’t use more energy later in the night to make up for lost time) amounted to just ten tons of CO2 – equivalent to just one Dane’s annual emissions for a full year. Measuring the avoided climate impact for the indefinite future, the entire combined efforts of the Queen, many companies, and the city halls of Copenhagen and other cities yielded $20 worth of good.