Earth Hour: some afterthoughts and criticisms

The last couple of days have seen a huge media reaction to this year’s event, and news items, blog posts, and commentaries responding to the increased public awareness could hardly be counted.

The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra perform a concert powered by bicycles, Cape Town, South Africa.

In South Africa, power utilty Eskom claims that electricity demand dropped 20 percent after 8.30PM, saving 400 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. See here for more details.

Around the world, the Philippines topped the Earth Hour participation with 647 cities and towns, and in Ireland the equivalent of 700,000 lights went off for the hour. Toronto, Canada, saw a decrease of 15.1 percent in electricity demand, and for the first time the United Nations turned the lights off at their headquarters in New York.
More data will surely be available soon here and here.

But the power of Earth Hour does not reside in its mere efficacy, and the number of energy saved will never be its ultimate goal, nor it would be enough of an environmental action if it were. As many critics were eager to point, switching lights off for an hour — no matter how lights you have in your house or how many people around the world actually do it — will not knock the global carbon emissions down. In fact, many (see also here) argue that if we account for all the energy spent to advertise Earth Hour, CO2 production actually goes up…and if we use paraffin candles, we won’t be doing a favour to the planet either, according to the Physical Insights.

Some extremists have arrived to the point of instituting counter-events such as Hour of Power — in which participants are encouraged to turn all their lights on — still believing that global warming is not a man-made threat. Fortunately balanced and constructive criticism can also be found out there, and here you’ll find a particularly good one. Here is another, if shorter, example.

The message sent was indeed a strong and clear one: change starts from small gestures. Symbols can be a powerful tool, even if they cannot actually righting wrongs overnight — nothing ever does that, not even the best thought-out government policies…especially those. Earth Hour may well be a tiny spec of dust in the massive sandpit in which climate change is dragging us, but is undoubtedly showing how millions of people can still be aroused behind a cause they believe in, and strive for a common goal they judge achievable, making them participants and co-creators of a more sustainable future.

If symbolism is all there was left to Earth Hour, I would still sign up to every newsletter, petition, and call to action that bore its logo. But maybe is also time for a renewed mass-participation in local and global politics. As Kim Carstensen, the leader of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative said in her post-event statement: “Last night’s message from the masses was loud and clear: Delay no more, real action now!” The message is directed to the world’s representatives who will meet in Copenhagen in December for the UN COP15 summit on climate change. And they are our representatives after all.


Congratulations to my friends at NEED magazine for scoring yet another editorial and marketing success by having a set of images from one of their recent feature stories published on

© Andy Richter/NEED magazine

American freelance photographer Andy Richter’s reportage of the Starkey Hearing Foundation was originally featured on NEED issue 5 —soon fully available online here.

Specialists audiologists, who volunteer their time and skills to the Minnesotan-based organisation, visit and assist thousands of hearing-impaired people in countries stretching from the U.S. to Vietnam, delivering more than 50,000 hearing aids annually through more than 100 hearing missions a year.

© Andy Richter/NEED magazine

28 March 2009: Earth Hour - 3rd edition

It has been a year already…hard to believe but alarmingly true: time to prepare for the upcoming event then. …Many of you must have guessed that I’m not talking about my birthday, which I do not particularly care for, but a rather more important global happening: Earth Hour.

Earth Hour encourages public participation through small scale, individual actions: by switching off all lights and superfluous electrical appliances at home or at work for an hour, between 8:30 and 9:30PM local time on Saturday, March 28.

Created by the WWF and started in 2007 in Sidney, Australia — when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour — the event quickly spread to most major world cities, with hundreds of landmarks, thousands of organisations, and millions — 50 of them in 2008 — of people taking part. In a city like Bangkok electricity usage decreased by 73MWh, equivalent to 41.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Christchurch, New Zealand, reported a drop of 13% in electricity demand. (Source: Wikipedia on

The goal in 2009 is to reach a billion participants: a billion votes, according to the organisers, for Earth, and against global warming, a powerful message for the world’s representatives who will convene in Copenhagen in December to discuss climate change at the UN COP15 conference.

Related possibilities are, as usual, infinite: environmental website TreeHugger for instance suggests that if Google were to switch from a white to a black homepage for good, it would save about 750MWh a year. See here for full details, and check this Google-powered search engine called Blackle.
On a similar note, ecoIron, a blog that provides reports and commentary on all aspects of green computing and sustainable technologies in IT, calls out to all web designers to think about the environment in their work by using Energy-C, their low-wattage colour palette. So we won’t even have to decide between monotonous black websites and saving the planet.

I personally made my choice some time ago when I first launched this blog of mine, but to be honest I was more concerned about style and professional consistency than anything else…would I have swapped to white, maybe even only for a day, if that had meant saving energy and send a message at the same time? Probably. Would you? Or do you also think that this is only greenwash?

The important point here is to understand how change can be achieved through means that are rather effortless indeed. The simple gesture of switching your lights off for an hour has the power to show that several small individual actions contribute to the achievement of a much larger goal.

We can all do something: the future is in hour hands, or in this case, on our fingertips.

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