Over the past few weeks, CNN.com has replaced its usual lead story about the latest suicide bombing in Iraq with stories about the global warming scare. There's some pretty compelling stuff in there, talking about how our lackadaisical approach towards fossil fuel expenditure, energy consumption and ecologically unsafe domestic and industrial waste may very well lead to the oceanic submersion of San Francisco's beloved Haight Ashbury district. In response to this fear, many of the word's powers have started to implement symbolic steps towards cutting down on ecologically dangerous habits. France for example has adopted the Think Green philosophy and turned off the Eiffel Tower's lights. Russia has also decided to Think Green. However, in these here parts, Think Green means something a little different.
With the world whipping itself into a frenzy over global warming, Moscow's latest public service campaign financed by the federal energy monopolies seems as timely as ever. Well, sort of.
The billboards read "Conserve Energy, using a big bright light bulb as its logo. Some dynamic ads even go as far as showing this light bulb being switched over for a more energy-efficient one. Those who live in Moscow have likely seen the billboards, lightboxes and brandmauers (large format billboards) throughout the city. You really can't miss them because the amount spent on this Think Green campaign rivals a typical Proctor and Gamble campaign.
All fine and dandy... except for one small detail: Each billboard, lightbox and brandmauer is lit. I kid you not. Each of these "conserve energy" ads, aimed at reducing electricity consumption, is lit by several giant, bright, power-sucking floodlights. This is about as pure a form of irony as you will find. Folks, if this irony were smack, there would be bodies lining Moscow's alleyways, twitching and foaming from inadvertent overdoses of the stuff, it's that much of an irony-overdose.
You'll have to go to exile.ru to see a photo of a typical 3x6 meter "Conserve Energy" billboard, lit up at night with all the energy that RAO-UES and Mosenergo can muster. But there's another version of this billboard that's even more energy-wasting: the billboard is not only brightly lit, but is also an electrically-powered rotating prismatron version, one which rotates a number of different ads within the same one location. My personal favorite is the brandmauer found on the side of a building on Leninskiy Prospect, one of Moscow's urban highways running through the city's centre. This particular super-site is lit by 7 huge floodlights, far larger and brighter than a typical 3x6.
The reality is that this campaign likely has absolutely nothing to do with international efforts at curbing global warming, or any analogous local ecology-friendly motives. At about this time last year, Moscow was experiencing one of its coldest winter snaps in ages. The utility monopolies were unable to meet local demand for energy, and had to resort to rationing in order to keep Moscow and other parts of Russia heated in the face of temperatures of -30C and below. Business centers were shut down, and federally funded operations such as institutes and administrative offices were forced to send people home, keeping only skeleton crews to wander about their musky, half-lit hallways. It was a mess.
RAO-UES chairman Anatoly Chubais went on national television to tell everyone, with a straight face, that the Russia's energy monopoly he runs simply did not have the money to upgrade their Soviet-era generators. Most people didn't believe any of it, and reacted as Russians normally do. They shrugged their shoulders and went about their business, grumbling, "nu shto i delat' (and what can one do)?"
If I had to guess, this year's campaign is an effort to make sure people are conscious of their electricity consumption just in case Russia is engulfed in yet another long cold snap. If Muscovites and their Moscow-based businesses are forced to ration electricity like last year, then the government goons who feed of RAO-UES would have no choice but to spend money on upgrading the energy monopoly's infrastructure, which means cutting out on few Cote D'Azur orgies in 2007. Perish the thought.
I drove past Mosenergo's building on the embankment recently. Both sides of the river are dotted by light boxes heralding the Conserve Energy slogan. Mosenergo's building itself is an architectural roman candle, with floodlights dotting each level of the structure. The roof is crowned with two giant lit neon signs, proudly bearing the Mosenergo logo. The Feds might just as well have sent a rep door-to-door in Moscow, in order to laugh in each resident's face, calling each a fucking idiot. So, while the West is Thinking Green in a righteous effort to save humanity, those in power over here are thinking a different kind of green. The Ben Franklin kind. soundly at night.