The hope and the threat

Symbolic actions are only relevant when they they become etched in the individual and collective conscience and change the way we do things. Otherwise, they are little more than a cost-free fad or a good alibi. The sad truth is that many of the days that are now dedicated to some noble cause have become something we can evoke to ease our heavy collective or individual conscience. This was the case with International Day Against Racism earlier this month, which Greece «celebrated» by refusing citizenship to second-generation migrants who have never known or wanted any country other than the one in which they were born and raised. It was also the case with World AIDS Day, «honored» by the firing of a HIV positive employee with the blessing of a court. The mass participation in Earth Hour last weekend, during which millions of people switched off lights, gives us some hope, but it also represents a threat. For the hope to shine through, we need Earth Hour to last longer than just one hour. If we switch off our lights for an hour simply to show that we care, we are changing nothing in our consumption patterns and the benefits (not in terms of energy and money, but rather soul and culture) will be negligible. This action will matter only if it serves as a daily reminder of the demand for ecological awareness, directed not only at ourselves but also those in power. The threat lies in believing that our environmental obligations are like our electoral ones: switching off our lights once a year, like we go to the polls every four, putting our fate into the hands of third parties whom we allow to rule as they will. Another threat is that these «third parties» will use their «symbolic» participation in Earth Hour as an alibi for their indifference. The Environment and Public Works Ministry and the City of Athens both seized the opportunity to flaunt their ecological sensitivity. But will this bring anything positive for the polluted Asopos River, for example, or the felled trees of Kypseli? Or are these issues that will only be remembered for another «Hour» next year?

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