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article imageOp-Ed: Earth Hour Lights Out Not Such a Bright Idea

By David Silverberg     Mar 29, 2008 in Environment
Today’s Earth Hour campaign implores us to shut off our power for one hour. It may sound altruistic on the surface, but Earth Hour is a joke, another eco-friendly gimmick that pretends to offer a quick solution to the complex problem of climate change.
Digital Journal — It’s the feel-good story of the month: on March 29, between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST, more than 370 cities will switch off their lights for Earth Hour. The global blanket of darkness is supposed to remind us about climate change, energy conversation and sharing a problem across continents. It sounds socially responsible, but Earth Hour is just another gimmick to “raise awareness” and doesn’t provide long-term solutions to nations looking for climate change answers.
Let’s be clear about one thing: taking responsibility for wasteful actions and trying to make a positive impact on the world are worthy goals. We all should limit our electricity usage, taking in mind how over-consumption could hurt our planet. And yes, Earth Hour sounds like a lofty project on paper. Millions of people turn off their lights for one hour, offering a practical and symbolic gesture of thoughtfulness towards our serious climate change crisis.
But haven’t we been through this before? The Live Earth concerts were supposed to seismically shift our energy priorities, with the hope of “raising awareness” (there’s that darn catchphrase again) amidst a sea of screeching celebrities and self-aggrandizing politicos. As many critics pointed out, all that Live Earth did was give us a the unlikely pairing of Alicia Keys and Keith Urban onstage, and more excess waste than we could imagine — those pop stars didn't bike to the concert venues to keep the air clean. Live Earth was pointless.
And now Earth Hour wants to bring back that fantastical notion of countries bridging their differences to come together for one hour of candlelit dinners and acoustic street jam. I’m all thumbs-up for taking back public space and having low-cost fun, regardless of the meaning behind it. But the message of Earth Hour may be lost in the cool factor of playing board games with a flashlight or enjoying the outdoors on a Saturday night. What people need is not awareness but knowledge about viable climate change solutions.
The organizer behind Earth Hour, WWF, claims the highly-anticipated event will plant a seed in everyone’s mind about their individual power usage. It supposedly worked last year in Sydney, Australia, when 2000-plus businesses cut their power for one hour, decreasing energy use in the city by 10 per cent, WWF said. Granted, a campaign with this much hype and publicity behind it will likely get people talking about energy conservation.
The campaign’s MO begs the question, “Do we need something like Earth Hour if we were all just responsible homeowners?” Here’s a wild idea: instead of looking forward to one hour a year to turn off all light, people should be turning off unused switches all the time. Every day, not just one day annually. Earth Hour has the feel of a didactic parent patronizing a child with declarations of, “Remember, turn off the lights you don’t use, because that saves power. Right?”
Ironically, some Earth Hour activities may actually do more harm than good. Eco-friendlies who use candles on March 29 are actually releasing 15 grams of carbon dioxide per candle (no matter the candle’s composition). And sites like Google that display an all-black background are actually increasing energy usage on flat-panel monitors.
Just like Live Earth’s music-centred focus, many Earth Hour events are hosting concerts to celebrate the hour of darkness. In Toronto, pop star Nelly Furtado will perform an all-acoustic event, but I wonder if she’ll be singing without a microphone because a mic chews up energy. And will Furtado be driving a hybrid or skateboarding to the outdoor concert venue? Not likely. Furthermore, what about the massive crowd that will likely show up to watch the concert; how much energy will be consumed as people travel dozens of kilometres to hear her sing "Maneater."
All these fake call-to-arms concerts send conflicting messages to curious citizens who truly want to learn about climate change.
Earth Hour supporters say the campaign is a good start. The key word is “start” and participants shouldn’t think their environmental mitzvah is complete at 9:01 p.m. on Saturday night. It’s obvious that Earth Hour is targeting the eco-newbie who still hasn’t clued in to basic facts about power usage; the more progressive members of society understand the bullet-point information WWF is blasting at us through Earth Hour. Turning off my bedroom lights can be helpful? And let me guess, recycling is also a new fad destined to minimize the world’s landfill?
I know it sounds cruel to beat up on Earth Hour, which is the equivalent of a defenseless puppy just trying to do the world some good. But it’s frustrating to see the media, corporations and everyday folk get caught up in a frenzy of eco-orgasmic joy with just one hour of action. The alternative sounds better: sustained activism through lifestyle changes and corporate responsibility, without the gimmicks.
More about Earth hour, Wwf, Climate change
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