On June 21, the day of Summer Solstice, I listened to a report on National Public Radio about the nationwide Roll Your Own Blackout movement that had sprung from California through the exponential powers of e-mail. Movement leaders wanted everyone to turn out their lights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night and rediscover how to entertain themselves without electricity.
I was heartened, until it became clear that the protest was only meant as temporary--a momentary diversion, an evening without TV. In response to questions about the ability to measure the movement's effect on the power grid, those interviewed said they were more interested in the symbolic statement a protest would make against the control and power of energy corporations.
I'm sure that the struggle over energy costs in California has made many consumers want to dig in their heels and fight for their perceived right to affordable, ever-present electricity. While it's been hard for me to keep up with the explanations for the West Coast energy shortage put forth by politicians, citizens, spokespersons, and commentators, I've gotten the distinct impression that no one sector can take all the blame.
That's why I was disappointed by the ephemeral, one-night, roll your own blackout idea. Choosing to read by candlelight for one night would be like choosing to walk to work for one day. Both are nice ideas--even nicer if everyone did them. But I haven't heard of any studies showing a positive environmental impact from such one-time flings with self-sacrifice.
As a relatively hardcore TV-free individual, I have little sympathy for those who can't find an evening's worth of things to do that don't depend on being plugged in. I look forward to evenings spent reading good books, taking long walks in the neighborhood, sitting on my front porch observing nature, writing letters and meeting friends. Some of these activities require electricity; others don't. I also try to do my reading, writing or meeting in outdoor cafés and other public places where I can share what electricity is required.
These are not protests, but rather, a lifestyle. And anyone who makes similar choices knows the benefits can only be reaped through regularity. (You don't get to know how many bird species live in your front yard in just one evening.)
I'm sure that there are people in California who live this way, too. But it's the ones who dabble in energy conservation and call it sacrifice that I feel sorry for. Can't they remember the fun of playing catch on summer evenings until you could hardly see the ball anymore, then chasing fireflies that made you feel you didn't need any other light? I see no need for a temporary protest to make such moments a part of life again.