As you read these lines, the Earth Hour 2011 would have concluded in Pakistan. The global event is meant to create awareness about the need to take action against climate change and it involves turning off non-essential lights and other electrical appliances for an hour on the last Saturday of March every year. In a country where people are subjected to long power outages throughout the year, it is a cruel joke that takes tokenism to the realm of absolute absurdity. It highlights not only the intellectual poverty of environmental activism in our country, but also the fragmentation of the modern mind throughout the world. As glamorous local celebrities are enlisted to promote such useless global activities in the name of creating awareness, the real issues are brushed under the carpet. The need for creating environmentally sound policies is buried under the glitzy hullabaloo of special events organised to mark the occasion. Politically correct speeches are made, a show is made of planting saplings or conducting painting competitions on the theme, prizes are distributed, and after much mutual praise, the participants and torchbearers of environmental protection go home satisfied that they've done their bit. The question is: How effective are these awareness raising gimmicks in actually addressing the problems they highlight? According to a news report, the Earth Hour is to be marked by an event at the Parliament House as well. As the lights are switched off and platitudes thrown about, resolving to protect the environment, no questions will be asked about why every single megawatt of power generation capacity added by the present government is dependent on fossil fuels. There will be a lot of breast-beating about what is happening to the environment, and the government would mouth its sincerity to the cause, but it will not tell us why it has not taken any concrete steps to harness the abundant environment-friendly alternative energy sources or the time-tested hydel-power, instead of opting for one hazardous and expensive power plant after another. The Environmental Protection Agency and departments will join the professional environmentalists in upholding the cause and undertaking token activities considered to be good for the environment or to raise awareness, but they will not answer for the violation of environmental laws that take place right under their environment-friendly noses; violations that are destroying the environment much faster than their Earth Hour and other similar showcase activities could possibly handle. Rather than wasting their time, energy and resources on such window-dressing, wouldn't it be better for those entrusted with the task of protecting the environment to do the job that they are paid by the taxpayers to do? There is a striking imbalance between the activities to create awareness as compared to activities to actually do something about the problem. Isn't it strange that most of the time one finds these professional environmentalists, people who are paid by dubious donors to save our planet, engaged in only creating awareness about various issues - and that too in isolation? Why are they preoccupied with studies and surveys that come to conclusions that are already obvious? There is no attempt to prioritise the issues or to put them in an overall perspective. It seems that the entire purpose of the international environmental enterprise is to distract the discourse on environmental degradation by this piecemeal activism restricted to creating awareness about imagined or real threats. There is no attempt to connect the dots and actually do something about the problem. In our country, the absurdity is further compounded by the fact that such initiatives are conducted on cue from the head offices of the international environmental enterprise; the various rich international NGOs that are supposed to be working for the environment, but are actually little more than toothless appendages in the essentially anti-environment capitalist framework. They are paid to keep whimpering about fashionable issues without coming to the real point and challenging the global economic order and the development paradigm pushed by it, that lie at the root of environmental degradation on our planet. Is it possible to save our planet without replacing an economic order that is based on mass production and mass consumption? Can we protect the environment without rejecting the prevalent paradigm that measures development in terms of how much we consume? Of course, there is no room for such thoughts in the million-dollar initiatives undertaken in the name of environment; they are not meant to upset the overloaded applecart under whose weight the planet is screaming. They must point in every other direction but at the applecart itself, lest people become aware of the real source of our problems. They must add to the fragmentation of the modern mind as that is the only way to keep loading the cart with stolen apples without anyone noticing. So while they fret and fume about global warming, switching off lights for an hour in a year, publishing books and brochures blowing their trumpets on expensive paper as they raise alarms about diminishing forests, holding seminars and workshops in elitist resorts, conducting studies and surveys highlighting this environmental issue or that, the ugly show continues. Thus, environmental degradation becomes just another isolated issue to be tackled by wishy-washy tokens of concern and piecemeal strategies. Like terrorism, interfaith harmony, fair-trade, occupation and bombardment of weak states, control of resources, cultural identity, and everything under the sun, it is to be understood within its own jargon and framework. As the fragmented modern mind grapples with the ins and outs of these 'larger-than-life issues', trying to deal with the problems within isolated frameworks, the root cause of these multiple problems is obscured. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer, and the unjust global order that makes it all possible is conveniently forgotten. What could demonstrate this more clearly than the Earth Hour? Amidst loadshedding, drone strikes and IMF-generated price hike, the citizens of Pakistan were educated about saving the planet by switching off the lights for an hour. n The writer is a freelance columnist.