To be an ecologist during a Sunday’s lunch at the weekly family meeting can sometimes lead to drawing extreme conclusions. You politely ask why your step mother has left the light of the kitchen on, and you brutally lose the control of the discussion, which will surely end in an argument. From turning the light off it will slip to the energy dependence, the environmental risks of our abuse of energy, and to the sentence: “What would you like? To go back to the times when we only used candles? Urgh! Very funny coming from a person using a computer almost every day!” This is the point when you sense how true it is that the best defense is to attack. You are now rhetorically dead: either you stand on your (ecological) dignity and you are a reactionary hypocrite, or you claim the right to remain silent (and all the family will secretly deeply appreciate your strategic choice for stopping a tiresome familial moment).
Candles are a new obsession when it comes to ecology: in France, the allegory was used against those who dared to claim that the end had come for nuclear plants. It is a very useful verbal weapon, and a very interesting criticism. If you deny the power and benefits of progress, you are not legitimate in any kind of debate. Progress is seen as unilateral, linear, and you are either with it or against it. If you try to explain that nuclear-generated electricity is not a long term solution, or that a bicycle is more sustainable than a car, or that people should start to consider using less (one shower a day is enough – it’s proven), people will have this very significant physical reaction : the eyes rolling effect ; meaning “and here he/she goes again”. You are boring. Not a dreamer, not an utopist, not even too young to understand, just boring. Any argument approaching the idea of restriction is very dangerous. But nothing is more normal: after decades of mass consumption, we all integrated a right to reach the ideal of the unrestricted life. A life where you can buy more, where you can eat anything, where you can possess a house, a car or two, high technologies, hundreds of clothes and shoes. Our generation grew with that, and we all love to have everything. We all went on sales even if we didn’t need anything. We all consumed. Restriction seems an old nightmare.
Should an ecologist be offended by such a condemnation? Candles are a very ecological means to generate energy. Moreover it symbolizes centuries of strong collaboration between human intelligence and nature. This beautiful object of human culture is unfairly belittled as a tool from the past.
What is clever in a candle made of beeswax is that human beings found a use to a natural process that could have been left unseen. A beeswax candle is made by using the operculum slightly covering the delicious honey made by bees. By melting this operculum, we free it from its impurities, which give a candle of delicate natural scent. This resource could have found no use. But everything in nature is part of a process and every element of it is tight to each other.
What an unfair treatment done to candles, old and ingenious creation. How useful it has been for many poor lovers. The more pitiful dinner is gold when two lighted candles on the table light up the sparkles in the eye of the beloved. There is no doubt that the Little Match Girl of Anderson’s tale would have been in better shape had she been the Little Candle Girl. She might have ended her story breathing on a cake full of little colorful candles. Or she would have sculpted the wax, gotten well known and exposed her art in the MoMA. More seriously, how funny it is that candles have become the sign of a despised passed. For sure the Age of Enlightment was not lighted by nuclear plants. How many of our Great Men worked late at night in the glowing light of a beeswax candle? A simple bee is more to our history than one could imagine.
Considering how complex the chemical process of candle production have become (to color them, to produce perfumed candles, to shape them, or even to have them never melting), who could say that a candle is a synonym for decline? They did evolve, and are part of our art, our knowledge, our know-how. And, when a sudden electric cut occurs unexpectedly, when our nuclear plant betrays our confidence and leaves us blind in a frightening darkness, when your phone low on battery has stopped lightening your path to the hidden place where is hidden the relieving treasure: CANDLES! Fiat lux, et lux fit! You have the power, the light, the small flame and its heat, you are deeply happy. You are autonomous, you survived.
Ecologists, don’t repress the candle fanatics inside yourselves, candles might be the future we want!
Image source : Philippe Caza, http://philippe-caza.blogspot.fr/2010/07/quelques-faits-dete.html