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Emotion Is Sometimes The Enemy of Effectiveness

When I was young, I used to take part in various events meant to change the world. None of them did, though. Later I realized that this was never the real intention, anyway - the people who set up such events are trying to make themselves feel relevant, without actually doing the work to really make a difference for the better. The protests,Earth Day rallies, and cultish devotion to an insipid narcissist who cannot fathom economics or history but speaks well and wears nice suits, all of these speak to a focus entirely on image, with no concern for substance.

A suitable example of this façade-based thinking is the recent 'earth hour' fad. The idea was for everyone to sit in the dark, without lights or AC or power of any kind for one hour. The idea was - supposedly - to "raise awareness", which is lib-code for 'no freaking idea why we're doing this but they said it's important', with the sub-text being that saving power for one hour would show what commitment would do, commitment in this case apparently meaning 'let's live like prehistoric people, except that they had fire and common sense'. So, let's see what they saved.

Counting all of the participants collectively, the aggregate total money and power saved through the 'earth hour' campaign was ... zero savings.

Actually, the real total would be a net waste, due to the power and money spent planning and promoting the event, and the media resources used to cover it. All told, millions of dollars were simply thrown away, which could have been used to really help people or the environment in ways that were not considered hip and trendy, but which could have actually made a real difference.

The problem, you see, is a fundamental inability to understand the basic way power is generated, distributed, and used. Power generation is performed at plants worldwide, in each case the electricity is generated according to load specifications, and sent along distribution lines to the end users. Because humans generally behave in predictable manners, use can be predicted to a certain degree, and a certain amount of power is generated for that anticipated need, plus a certain amount of extra load for a safety zone. That safety zone avoids brownouts from unexpected surges, and also protects the equipment the same way you want to maintain an even speed rather than wear your engine with a lot of sudden accelerations.

The largest amount of load is committed to commercial and industrial use, and to large public use facilities. Residential use is collectively large but dispersed over a large geographic area, which is managed through grid and sector distribution. In an event like the 'earth hour' promotion, electricity consumption as a portion of the whole is negligible, unless major industries also shut down, which not only did not happen, in most cases it could not happen without major damage or cost. This may be compared to bringing a large ship to a complete stop, sitting for an hour, then starting again - it will take a lot more energy to do that than it would to simply keep the engines running. The laws of physics are not sympathetic to the propagandists selling 'earth hour' promotions.

But let's say that every person in a home shut off their lights, AC, TV, and so on for an hour. Impressive yes? Actually no not at all. The power has already been generated, and unlike other commodities, unused energy is not storeable, so it just gets lost. The plants cannot scale back their production ahead of shifts in demand, they must instead respond to actual changes in usage and one hour is not long enough for the shift production to be altered. The whole 'earth hour' promotion was based on false assumptions and ignorance of how things really work.

But it "raised awareness", right? Again, no. Given the need to save money, most people already want to save energy anywhere they reasonably can do that, but it's very foolish to suggest that darkness, deprivation, and discomfort are feasible options for a lifestyle. It not only connects their political message with its inherent naivete, most people will only accept a limited amount of personal discomfort before moving on to find a plan which allows them some comfort. So 'earth hour' came across to many people for what it really was, a self-serving insult from arrogant morons who failed to understand basic science and economic principles.

Emotion can be important, especially in personal relationships, movies, and sporting events. But it gets in the way of clear thinking all too often.


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Comments (7)

Well, yes, DJ. But once the... (Below threshold)
bobdog:

Well, yes, DJ. But once they figure out how to monetize feeling good, you'll see how worthwhile it was.

We probably made money and reduced the fricking deficit.

Sure raised MY awareness - ... (Below threshold)
apb:

Sure raised MY awareness - I have become more aware of how inane the preachy, power-mad, modern-day Luddites actually are.

"Awareness" campaigns are e... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

"Awareness" campaigns are effective in inserting issues into the public discourse with the knowledge that the next step will be for business to exploit the issue for profit and then the "issue" will never go away.

The freebie in the cereal box is the classic example. Ecology flag stickers in Rice Krispies. "Model Pinto, Pinto...free, free in Cheerios!"?

Remember that campaign? Every kid realized that (for some reason) little ugly cars were cool. Or, at least, were OK. So instead of the kid being surprised in real life by a new, REAL Ford Pinto and saying "Dad! Look at that funny car! Ha-ha!", he would say, "Hey! That's like the car I got in Cheerios!"

So, campaigns are effective because the efficiency tolerance is set quite high. It's a "war", not a battle, thus the "campaign" moniker.

Turning off your lights for... (Below threshold)
STaylor:

Turning off your lights for an hour. Big Whoop. Anyone can turn off their lights for an hour. Several hours, a day, a week; different story. I would like to see how much traction an 'earth week' would gain. Not much, which is why these idiots stick to their paltry 'earth hour' and then sit around patting themselves on the backs for performing of shutting off the lights for an hour like it just saved the panda from extinction or something.

Everyone wants to save the ... (Below threshold)
JohnB:

Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help Mom do the dishes.

The power has alre... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
The power has already been generated, and unlike other commodities, unused energy is not storeable, so it just gets lost. The plants cannot scale back their production ahead of shifts in demand, they must instead respond to actual changes in usage and one hour is not long enough for the shift production to be altered.

While I agree that earth hour was nothing but a stunt, I differ with you on the technical description of how power production works. At all times the generation capacity must match the load and the lag time is but a second or two at most. If the load changes the generation rate must also change by the same amount to maintain line voltage within tolerable limits. It's Ohm's law. With small load fluctuations the system automatically adjusts within a second. If the load increases too much then "spinning reserves" are brought on-line. A spinning reserve is a generator that's already spinning, but not switched on-line. When the load drops generators are switched off-line, but may be kept spinning in reserve.

You are right in the sense that a base power plant (typically coal or nuclear) can't quickly change the amount of fuel they are using in response to a drop in load, but they can and must quickly change how much power they are generating. The power system is designed so that base power plants can run at a predictable rate with additional power coming from peaking plants which are often fuelled by NG or oil. Those plants can adjust their fuel consumption quickly particularly if they use gas turbines to drive the generators.

In some areas excess power from base plants is diverted to motors that pump water into a reservoir, which is then released through water turbines that turn generators to help supply peak power needs latter in the day. Such storage allows the base plants to maintain their optimal capacity without wasting too much power.

Somehow this whole thing ju... (Below threshold)
epador:

Somehow this whole thing just makes me think of the SouthPark episode about the hippy infestation. Maybe if we all played Heavy Metal Real Loud it would make these fools all go away.




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