On March 25, 1 in 4 Australians and approximately 1 billion people around the world will switch off their lights and scour the house for candles for Earth Hour.
But while it may seem like a billion people switching off for an hour around the world would make a huge dent in emissions for the day, the awkward reality is that Earth Hour doesn’t really help the planet. In fact, it might even raise emissions.
It begs the question – is Earth Hour really helping the planet or is it the real world version of a viral hashtag, heavy on vain symbolism and low on impact?
Does it help the planet?
It’s now been ten years since the Earth Hour campaign was launched by the World Wildlife Fund in Australia. In between the masses of good press and endorsements from big companies, there has also been a steady stream of scathing criticism saying that despite claiming to help the planet, the hour actually increases emissions.
An article by Bjorn Lomborg in Slate argued that even though there is a sudden decrease in electricity, this doesn’t actually mean there’s any less energy being pumped into the grid and therefore there are no reduction of emissions. Plus, any reduction in demand for electricity would be offset by the energy needed to fire back up the coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies once the hour is over.
The skeptics don’t end there. Others have argued that burning candles is worse for the environment than using a light bulb and we’d be better off putting our feet up and ignoring the whole thing. The science behind the claim is complicated (and rather dull) so feel feel to wade into it yourself.
The point is, even if Earth Hour does help cut emissions – it is negligible.
But the WWF is well aware that one hour a year isn’t going to solve climate change. It is advertised as an opportunity to “demonstrate a commitment to fighting climate change” and about sending a message that “we will remain steadfast as we deliver on the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement”.
The right way to tackle climate change?
Plenty of people are eager to trash Earth Hour because it cannot achieve any more than mere symbolism.
But to them I ask – what’s your alternative? Go on, name one.
Apart from the Paris Climate Agreement, climate change seems to have slipped right off the global agenda. It’s been grabbed from the hands of scientists and is now in the domain of right-wing conspiracy theorists who have successfully put enough doubt into people’s minds that it’s moved from global threat to a dubious theory. Now with determined non-environmentalist Trump in charge and the media distracted, the greatest issue the world faces is being pushed into the shadow again. Even in Australia, the once climate change warrior Malcolm Turnbull, finally in a position to actually do something about it, is lauding clean coal.
To fight climate change, we need to start talking about it again. That’s exactly what Earth Hour is designed to do. Now more than ever we need a strong reminder that the world and its leaders care about climate change and Earth Hour gives us that opportunity. Seeing global monuments cloaked in darkness sparks a conversation.
But if we merely switch off the lights for one hour, feel good about ourselves and then do and say nothing more, it will be wasted. Switching the lights off for Earth Hour alone does nothing. It’s what we talk about in that hour of darkness that really matters and what it motivates us to do after we turn the lights back on. In our homes, when we switch off those lights we need to talk about what we can do at home to reduce the amount of energy we use. At work, we should be talking about the need to bloody switch off the lights after everyone goes home for the day. In Parliament, the sight of the Opera House cloaked in darkness should prompt vigorous debate about whether our country is doing enough to fight this beast.
Events like Earth Hour are easy targets for people to denounce modern activism as vain slacktivism. But I dare say a nuanced conference outlining the complex ways to reduce pollution isn’t going to attract a billion people. To be popular, these events are forced to be one dimensional and symbolic in order to attract the attention of the media and the public, otherwise there’s no conversation at all. It’s what we pair with these events that really matters. So instead of trashing Earth Hour all together, let’s use the publicity to talk about the important issues rather than working out how many candles it would take be as inefficient as a light bulb.
Earth Hour doesn’t directly help the planet. And who really cares? Earth Hour is a rallying cry. It’s a symbol of hope and a pledge of commitment to take climate change seriously. And if you really believe it’s pointless, vain symbolism? I look forward to your idea that provokes one billion people to talk about climate change, even if it is only for one measly hour.
Take some action
Leave your cynicism at the door folks!I said leave it at the door. Yes, you too Maeve.