Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

Well, Earth Hour came and went last weekend with many seemingly oblivious to its very existence. There are 8760 hours in a single year and thus cutting the power for one of these hours (punches numbers triumphantly into calculator) could result in a massive 0.0114 per cent reduction in our annual electricity consumption. Possibly this won't make a huge dent in global warming and the increasing likelihood that we’ll all be sipping Icelandic Shiraz before the century is out.

Earth Hour is however, in the yoghurt-weaving, glibly eco parlance of our times, supposed to be more of a so-called "Consciousness raising" exercise. More of which later, for now though I'll just note that plenty of businesses around the city seemed to be using the event as an opportunity to promote their own agendas. "Come and enjoy Earth Hour with us by candlelight, there will be a 25 per cent discount on margaritas all night!" kind of thing. Rather cynical really, although perhaps the idea was to get the punters so drunk that they couldn't drive, thus reducing their carbon footprints to zero at a stroke.

For my part, I decided to get on my bicycle and join an Earth Hour ride from fX Plaza up Jl. Sudirman to Monas with some of the city's keen amateur cyclists. As I'm sure most of you have noticed, there's something of a cycling revolution going on around town just at the moment. Young chaps have taken to twiddling around the city on the latest must have fashion accessory, namely the so-called ‘fixie’ bicycle. These are basically track bikes without gears and, quite worryingly, often without brakes too. Hipster kids are snapping up these rather impractical aluminium steeds like hot cakes however, usually in rather effeminate shades of lilac and turquoise and the like. They then spend their evenings pedalling between Circle K and 7Eleven in search of Red Bull fuelled good times (usually at extremely slow speeds due to the aforementioned lack of stopping power).

And so my cycling brethren and I twiddled our way gently up the traffic choked Jl. Sudirman, possibly looking as incongruous as someone bouncing a pogo stick around a Formula One track. As we neared the famous Hotel Indonesia roundabout, the road became so chock solid that I was forced into my usual foolhardy tactic of wheeling my iron horse into the Busway lane and then pumping the old thighs hard enough to avoid being steamrollered into the asphalt by a pursuing TransJakarta behemoth. None of my fellow cyclists proved to be up to the Busway challenge however. The big Jessies.

Up at Monas, the lights went out, plunging the flame tipped phallus into darkness, well, semidarkness anyway. A real Earth Hour, in my view, would kill street lights, traffic lights, hospital defibrillators, respirators and dialysis machines, the lot. Let's see how committed people actually are to this premise. For my part, I gave up after half an hour and went to soak up the native charm down on nearby Jl. Jaksa at a friend's birthday drinkathon.

Earth Hour ay? I can't help feeling that this charity for the environment isn’t raising consciousness to the critical level of visceral, physical reality needed to break the capitalist-consumerist fantasies of our lives, lives that increasingly float unshackled by mere Earthly, environmental gravity, lives that are buoyed up by images on screens and the disembodying effects of surfing the net. Rather the whole environmental, Earth Hour shtick seems to have been assimilated into our materialistic culture as just another ad campaign. As the novelist Christopher Isherwood once said, the rich world has, "retired to live inside our own advertisements. Like hermits going into caves to contemplate."

Earth Hour is just another excuse to break out the bumper stickers and have a feel good Kodak moment, whilst the underlying mismatch of a capitalist system predicated on infinite expandability existing in a world of finite resources is never addressed.

Like the shark that needs to keep swimming to prevent itself from sinking to the bottom, our capital centric world has to keep growing to work properly. Thus new desires and needs have to be constantly manufactured. You can look in the wardrobe and think to yourself, “Right I’ve got eight shirts, one for everyday of the week, and one more for luck” but who does? Nobody in the developed world does this because that’s no good for the system. The system has to get you to keep buying more and more shirts in order for the whole game to work, and thus a whole mindset, an ethos of consumerism, has to be instilled in the subject. Such an ethos cannot simply be shrugged off by turning off the lights for an hour, lighting a few candles and singing a few choruses of MJ’s “Heal the World”.

Drunken musings aside, after a good old session with my friends, I found myself strolling outside of our bar of choice. "Oh bugger, I brought the bike didn't I?" I mused to myself. Now, I cycle to work every day, which is only 15 minutes from my house, but I'm certainly not used to cycling to the boozer of an evening. Moreover, earlier in the night, a friend had confessed to cycling into a metal pole in the middle of the street after a particularly discombobulating night out in Bali. "I mean, what was the pole doing there?" He implored. "Don't blame the pole," I reasoned, "it's only one short step from that to 'These are my airline seats, I'm a very important man, I'm friends with the boss of your company, I could have you fired!'" In any case, it was time to man up and wobble off home. Thankfully my bicycle has brakes, otherwise I'd have really been trouble.