Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hour Without Power

I saw a Doris Day movie when I was a boy called Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, which was a takeoff on the 1965 power blackout that affected the entire northeast of the U.S. The mayhem that ensued in New York City made many people wonder if civilization was nothing but a thin veneer on society. But the film turned it into a stupid sexual tease, with people feeling obliged by the absence of electricity to play musical beds. The theme song, written by Dave Grusin, is still stuck in my head these forty-odd years later: "Where were you when the lights went out?/Were you only a dream that I only dreamed about?"

Earth Hour 2011 has come and gone. Begun inauspiciously in Australia five years ago, it has caught on to become a worldwide event. On the last Saturday in March, participating groups ask people to turn off their lights at 8:30 PM and leave them off for one hour. This is the third year in which the Philippines has participated. Last year I
commented on this blog about Earth Hour. It seemed to me then that it was absurd to participate in such a silly event when the electrification of these islands is a work-in-progress. And what are know locally as "brownouts", but are usually nothing but "blackouts" (power outages caused by overloading), are routine even in metropolitan Manila, which is one of the biggest cities in the world.

But Earth Hour is just one more illustration, as if another was needed, of the failure of globalization. While there are millions of people every year in successful economies who are freed from the nightmare of poverty, many others living in less successful countries, in a competitive world economy, have found themselves joining the ranks of the poor. People in developed countries are only beginning to become aware of the existence of these people. Filipinos, too, seem to suffer from an inability to comprehend the absurdity of a country with a jerry-built infrastructure asking its predominantly poor citizens to turn off their lights for one hour. They are only pretending to live in the 21st century, doing their best to delude themselves and the rest of the world that they have arrived. Whether they know it or not, they are living in an "effortlessly green" world of their own. If they leave any carbon footprint on the sands of their beautiful beaches, it's nothing to kvetch about.

One-quarter to one-third of the world's population - that's about two billion people - are living without electricity. What do the citizens of the West have to say to them? That they are better off without electricity? That they should go on living without it? The industrial revolution that started in the 19th century and that transformed the lives of everyone in the developed countries is by now almost over. It has shifted to developing countries where it is now in full swing. There remain all the undeveloped countries in which the industrial revolution has just begun or perhaps never shall. What right have we to tell these countries to put the brakes on their development?

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