Is Earth Hour just a distraction?

Darkness isn’t something that we see a lot of anymore. Maybe that sounds silly. Of course, the sun still sets every evening, and the blue sky fades to black; but between the houses, the street lamps, the shops and the structures, our city – our whole planet – is still kept very much in the light.

For most of us, our world has been illuminated for as long as long as we can remember, it’s a modern convenience that we often take for granted. Yet few of us stop to think about the dark behind the light. The reality is that electricity is responsible for almost every light we see and that generating electricity is one of the most environmentally detrimental processes that exists. Most electricity is formed by burning coal and this is perhaps the biggest contributor to climate change. Nearly four grams of CO2 are produced for every gram of carbon burnt (and coal can contain as much as 60 to 80 per cent carbon). The short story is, our current rate of electricity usage is killing our planet.

It’s why, in 2007, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia came up with the idea of a ‘Lights Out’ event. Its purpose was to spread the word across Australia of the gravity of global warming, and to push the message that turning off non-essential electrical items can have a substantial impact. Fast forward 11 years, and this annual event is now called ‘Earth Hour’ and is the largest grassroots movement in support of the environment. In 2017, nearly nine million people got involved from 187 different countries.

This year, Earth Hour falls on March 24th, between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, local time. That means wherever you are in the world, when the clock hits 8:30, it’s time to turn off. It may seem like a small act, but, as the WWF announced in their 2017 campaign, “if nine million people around the world all switch off their lights, it can make a world of difference.” Landmarks across the planet are also encourage to take part. Last year, The Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and our very own Edinburgh Castle were among the buildings that showed their support for Earth Hour.

Yet, Earth Hour has not been without controversy. Many people say that it sends out a confused message and promotes activism in the wrong way. It’s true to some extent, one hour when everyone turns off their light promotes the idea that this in itself is beneficial to the environment. It’s not. Realistically, however much energy is saved during Earth Hour is so miniscule that the WWF doesn’t even keep track on the hour’s effects on energy consumption.

What’s more, Earth Hour spreads the wrong kind of message about how we can ameliorate climate change. At a time when climate change figures are at the worst they have ever been, now is not the time to kid people that it is the small, individual decisions that can fix our planet. Perhaps once it could have been the solution, but now it will ultimately take public policies and intergovernmental decisions in order to change the international infrastructures and laws that guide energy consumption. So whilst it is a sweet idea to gather the world and suggest they turn off their lights, arguably WWF should offer more information about what Earth Hour achieves, and what it doesn’t.

Finally, the biggest issue with Earth Hour is in its name. Our planet is in crisis; it deserves more than an hour. It deserves generation after generation making efforts to save our home. Dedicating just 60 minutes to the gargantuan issue that is climate change makes a mockery of the situation. How many people will turn their lights off for one hour, only to continue living nonchalantly by 9:30 pm?

If enough of us fight to end climate change, then it can be done. But it will take years, and it will require the efforts of those with the most power in society. So write to your local politicians, boycott the companies that have no respect for the environment, take part in protests, make a stand. But sitting in your bedroom in the dark for an hour is not the way to save our planet.

 

Image credit: Chris Yang via Unsplash

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