Earth Hour: Do nothing, and feel good about it

Pat yourselves on the back, Toronto! You've done it: absolutely nothing. Well, you did turn the lights off for a few minutes on Saturday. But overall it accomplishes nothing. The Toronto Star's article has the key facts and figures:

2,738 MW: The lowest demand for the hour
5% : the percentage drop from the previous hour
8.7%: the difference between the lowest demand of Earth Hour compared to the average for a typical late March Saturday night.
8:54 PM: The time at which that lowest demand was reached.

So way to go! You managed to reduce energy usage for about 5, 6 minutes. Because, as Toronto Hydro supervisor John Fletcher said, "People will forget to put out the lights ... but they won't forget to put them back on." And sure enough, when the giant clock jumped 21:00, then 21:05, the numbers rose as surely as they dropped.

Now I don't want to rain on everyone's parade, but let's look at this Earth Hour thing objectively:

1. No changes will be made because of it:
  • businesses will still leave their lights on even though nobody is in the office
  • Stores will leave exterior lights on unnecessarily
  • Yonge+Dundas Square is still filled with light pollution from those retarded ads
  • Nobody did anything about the dozens of power-wasting devices in their homes, such as DVD players, cable boxes, TVs, stereos, computers, and AC/DC converters that are wasting power even when you're not using the device
  • No politicians saw all the lights go out and decided "I'm going to support pro-environmental legislation, now that I know how serious the people are about this!"
2. It didn't even save any energy, in the big picture:
  • 8.7% is a lot, except it was for one hour
  • Oh wait, not even an hour, we only saved 8.7% for 6 minutes
  • Even if we had saved that for a WHOLE HOUR, that's still only 1/24th of a day
  • which adds up to 1/8760 of a year, or 0.01% of the energy used in a year
  • That is, it would be 0.01% of the year's energy if Earth Hour had happened during peak usage, which it didn't.
I think we should be glad that people want to chip in and help the environment, but we need to focus because this is not a small problem which can be solved by stunts like this. Instead we need to demand that manufacturers report things like how much power their devices waste when not in use. We need to demand that businesses install motion sensors or other features to enable better use of lights when they aren't needed as much. We should demand that politicians legislate about light pollution: light pollution is wasted energy, and it harms migrating birds and makes it impossible to see the stars. Why shine a light into space when you can shine it only where you need it?

Let's do SOMETHING about energy waste. Let's turn those lights off and KEEP them off.

Shopping Hours

Toronto City Council voted to continue to force stores to close on holidays, thus ensuring that pointless laws continue to be upheld. This sort of law goes back to religious laws which prohibit certain activities (typically working) on certain days. These days, especially in a city like Toronto, not everyone is the same religion (or even religious) and these types of laws are silly and antiquated.

Frankly there's no reason why stores shouldn't be allowed to be opened all day, all night, every day. Shoppers Drug Mart is already open every single day; why are they allowed to keep their doors open when Chapters is not? There is simply no good reason to force stores to close. Workers can be protected by laws allowing them to have a certain number of days OFF WORK (not just "off work or paid extra") and or laws allowing them to have a certain number of religious holidays at specified times. Some people I know didn't work Sundays even though everyone else on their project was working 14h/day every day, because these people asked for a religious exemption. There's no reason the same sorts of things can't be done for everyone. If you want to protect workers, fine, but let the workers take part in their own protection.

Lots of people don't mind working Christmas day (or Easter or any of the other mandatory holidays) because they want the extra money. There's no reason they should be forced to not work, because someone in the government feels everyone should have a "day off".

The other argument against allowing all of Toronto to be open for all days of the year was that other municipalities don't have the legal authority to enact the same law. Guess what? The Ontario government can't fine the whole province, and if every city enacted the same bylaw allowing stores to open whenever they wanted, the provincial government would cave.

(Note: I originally wrote this when the article was fresh then forgot to post it, but was reminded when I remembered that the Eaton Centre was closed Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Those are two of the only three days in the whole year that it closes. However other stores in the city don't get to be open even that long. Not to mention that many places have restrictions on what HOURS a store can be open. This doesn't actually ensure that everyone gets the night off, though, because lots of store have night-staff that work all night getting the store ready for the next day.)

Beijing's Olympic Inside Joke

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing feature a set of nauseating mascots called Fuwa (福娃). The basic idea is alright (one mascot for each olympic ring) but I find the art style they used to be not to my liking. I suspect millions of Chinese children love these critters and millions of Chinese parents hate them.

But the funny thing about these mascots is their names. Beibei (贝贝) is the Fish, Jingjing (晶晶) is the Panda, Huanhuan (欢欢) is the Olympic Flame, Yingying (迎迎) is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini (妮妮) is the Swallow. (I just noticed that the official web page for the Fuwa explains the names and the joke but I'll explain it again here). If you take each name's character and put them together (贝晶欢迎妮) you get "Beijing huanying ni". Which sounds like "北京欢迎你", or "Beijing haunying ni", which translates to "Beijing welcomes you". This is a nice sentiment but only people who speak Mandarin can see the joke; if you speak Cantonese or some other dialect the words "贝晶欢迎妮" are meaningless and the pun is lost. And if you don't speak any Chinese at all you obviously won't see the hidden meaning either.