Monday, April 27, 2009

Emotion Is Sometimes The Enemy of Effectiveness

When I was young, I used to take part in various events meant to change the world. None of them did, though. Later I realized that this was never the real intention, anyway – the people who set up such events are trying to make themselves feel relevant, without actually doing the work to really make a difference for the better. The protests,Earth Day rallies, and cultish devotion to an insipid narcissist who cannot fathom economics or history but speaks well and wears nice suits, all of these speak to a focus entirely on image, with no concern for substance.

A suitable example of this fa├žade-based thinking is the recent ‘earth hour’ fad. The idea was for everyone to sit in the dark, without lights or AC or power of any kind for one hour. The idea was – supposedly – to “raise awareness”, which is lib-code for ‘no freaking idea why we’re doing this but they said it’s important’, with the sub-text being that saving power for one hour would show what commitment would do, commitment in this case apparently meaning ‘let’s live like prehistoric people, except that they had fire and common sense’. So, let’s see what they saved.

Counting all of the participants collectively, the aggregate total money and power saved through the ‘earth hour’ campaign was … zero savings.

Actually, the real total would be a net waste, due to the power and money spent planning and promoting the event, and the media resources used to cover it. All told, millions of dollars were simply thrown away, which could have been used to really help people or the environment in ways that were not considered hip and trendy, but which could have actually made a real difference.

The problem, you see, is a fundamental inability to understand the basic way power is generated, distributed, and used. Power generation is performed at plants worldwide, in each case the electricity is generated according to load specifications, and sent along distribution lines to the end users. Because humans generally behave in predictable manners, use can be predicted to a certain degree, and a certain amount of power is generated for that anticipated need, plus a certain amount of extra load for a safety zone. That safety zone avoids brownouts from unexpected surges, and also protects the equipment the same way you want to maintain an even speed rather than wear your engine with a lot of sudden accelerations.

The largest amount of load is committed to commercial and industrial use, and to large public use facilities. Residential use is collectively large but dispersed over a large geographic area, which is managed through grid and sector distribution. In an event like the ‘earth hour’ promotion, electricity consumption as a portion of the whole is negligible, unless major industries also shut down, which not only did not happen, in most cases it could not happen without major damage or cost. This may be compared to bringing a large ship to a complete stop, sitting for an hour, then starting again – it will take a lot more energy to do that than it would to simply keep the engines running. The laws of physics are not sympathetic to the propagandists selling ‘earth hour’ promotions.

But let’s say that every person in a home shut off their lights, AC, TV, and so on for an hour. Impressive yes? Actually no not at all. The power has already been generated, and unlike other commodities, unused energy is not storeable, so it just gets lost. The plants cannot scale back their production ahead of shifts in demand, they must instead respond to actual changes in usage and one hour is not long enough for the shift production to be altered. The whole ‘earth hour’ promotion was based on false assumptions and ignorance of how things really work.

But it “raised awareness”, right? Again, no. Given the need to save money, most people already want to save energy anywhere they reasonably can do that, but it’s very foolish to suggest that darkness, deprivation, and discomfort are feasible options for a lifestyle. It not only connects their political message with its inherent naivete, most people will only accept a limited amount of personal discomfort before moving on to find a plan which allows them some comfort. So ‘earth hour’ came across to many people for what it really was, a self-serving insult from arrogant morons who failed to understand basic science and economic principles.

Emotion can be important, especially in personal relationships, movies, and sporting events. But it gets in the way of clear thinking all too often.

1 comment:

Stoutcat said...

DJ, nice post, and I believe you're correct about people who place emotion/agenda/awareness-raising above common sense.

You might be interested in viewing before-and after graphs which show that in California, whre you might expect the biggest participation for "sit in the dark hour", the whole thing was a total bust.

Once again, another feel-good boondoggle wastes everyone's time, energy, and money.