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.


Fiona | Thursday, 02 April, 2009

Delay no More!

Dani | Thursday, 02 April, 2009

Protesters at the ongoing G20 summit in London apparently played a giant game Monopoly, armed with huge crates of fake money. How's that for a message?

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