Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Culture of Gestures and Posturing

The Eiffel Tower will switch off its lights for five minutes, with the hope "to call attention to energy waste." The blackout comes as a result of the attention given to the "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" meeting in Paris.

While one can understand the environmentalists' hopes that the gesture will draw attention to the issue of global warming, one must ponder the efficacy of such a measure. If climate change is such an important issue, how will such a small gesture have any meaningful impact? The same article states that, "The Eiffel Tower's lights account for about 9 percent of the monument's total energy consumption of 7,000 megawatt-hours per year." The five minutes amounts to nothing in comparison to those figures. Granted, this is a publicity stunt, but if the French are so worried about climate change, shouldn't something more drastic be done to the Eiffel Tower's energy consumption?

I do not wish to address the politics or realities of climate change, rather, I wish to expose our culture's failure to address matters in meaningful ways. What kinds of demands do we make to solve problems? Think of some of the more pressing issues of our time. What is the solution to the Iraq War? The answers are generally either more troops in Iraq or to bring the troops home--as if either alone will bring peace to Iraq.

  • What of the state of our nation's schools? Solutions are always presented in financial terms--as if money will solve all the problems faced in the public school.
  • Poverty? Give the poor more money through tax breaks, welfare programs, subsidized housing, etc.
  • AIDS, Cancer, Disease? Wear a ribbon to "increase awareness" and increase research funding.
  • Crime? More money for more police.
  • Racism? Increase awareness, sensitivity training, legislation, MLK Jr. Day, etc.

We are a culture that promotes symbols and gestures rather than thoughtful, deliberate, and meaningful action. Symbols can be helpful, and gestures can promote change, but neither can replace insightful introspection and deliberate action.

This is why it is so silly to turn off the lights of the Eiffel Tower for five minutes--what will it really do? We will hear about it for a few days leading up to it, and the day afterwards, but the news cycle will move on to something else and this will be long forgotten. The Eiffel Tower will continue to use nearly 20 megawatts per day.

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