Every successful social movement has its defining images. Think of the civil rights movement, and the photos of protesters being attacked by police dogs and pummeled by high-pressure fire hoses. Or the Vietnam anti-war movement, and the video of body bags being beamed back to America's living rooms. Even environmentalism has its iconic images, like Cleveland's heavily polluted Cuyahoga River catching fire in the 1960s, smog wreathing Los Angeles's skyline during the next decade and even the stark hole in the ozone over Antarctica. To help galvanize public support — especially around a complex issue — the right picture really can be worth a thousand words.
When it comes to climate change, however, that picture hasn't yet been found. Hurricane Katrina's destruction, drowning polar bears, spreading deserts — these images are powerful in their own right, but they're not the sorts of pictures that can drive a movement. Precisely because global warming is so, well, global, potentially touching just about every corner of the world and every aspect of our lives, encapsulating it in a single image has proven elusive. You can't connect climate change to a natural disaster as simply as you can connect a napalm bomb, a running child and the war in Vietnam. That's made building and sustaining a movement against global warming so challenging. We can't see it yet, not quite — and we can't see its victims. But by the time we can, it will be too late.
Actually, Bryan, the Global Warming movement has found its "defining image" in the form of this video from Sydney, Australia showing what happened there when Earth Hour came. And what happened was utterly absurd. Yeah, most of the lights on a designated bridge were turned out but the lighted scene of Sydney in the background remained utterly unchanged. Also a boat lit only by blue neon type lights in the harbor floated by with, you guessed it, the Sydney lights in the background still on. The rest of the video is similarly laughable. You just have to watch it to appreciate the unintended humor. Even Walsh suspected that folks will laugh at the idea of Earth Hour:
Earth Hour itself is easy to make fun of — skeptics will say that turning out the lights won't make but a light ding in our carbon emissions, and critics will claim it proves that environmentalists really do want to send us straight to the dark ages. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, is holding a counter-protest during the same time period called Celebrate Human Achievement Hour, which will "salute the people who keep the lights on and produce the energy that helps make human achievement possible."
Since Walsh wrote those words before the Earth Hour video was recorded, he had no idea of just how easy it would be to make fun of that event. Images of feel-good types lamely turning off lights in a very limited way when all around them, the real world continued shining on, completely oblivious to something called "Earth Hour."
UPDATE: North Korea celebrates Earth Hour 24/7.