Earth Hour: “Feeling Good” Environmentalism Or The Real Deal?

This Saturday, millions of people from over 180 countries will participate in Earth Hour, an initiative aimed at reuniting people to protect planet Earth. Examples of environmental gestures include eating dinner by a candlelight or switching off the television for the night.

A video on Earth Hour by euronews.

It sounds like the goals set are genuinely to raise awareness of climate change, but over the years, given criticism over a focus on “feel-good-environmentalism”, it just might be going in the opposite direction.

Let’s start off with whether or not Earth Hour is effective. Many critics argue it is ineffective as it only involves people around the world switching off their lights for an hour once a year. On the other days of the year, electricity consumption is excessive and continues to grow. SCMP reported Hong Kong used up 162,431 terajoules in 2017 – a rise of 8.7 per cent since the first Earth Hour in 2009.

Moreover, environmental experts believe the sudden ups and downs in consumption can produce more emissions than when maintaining a constant speed. Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg best sums it up in an interview with the Huffington Post.

“As the United Kingdom’s National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterward.”

But more than anything, I believe Earth Hour isn’t effective because it doesn’t convey the right message to people about climate change.

The first time I joined Earth Hour, I recall sharing a photo of my candle on social media and spending the hour liking others’ Earth Hour posts online. Although I saved on my light bill, I was using more battery on my phone.

Think about it. There’s no net energy saved.

But to make matters worse, Earth Hour actually conveys a simple message about climate change that is far from accurate.

The fact that climate change is easy to tackle.

People just assume that they can turn off their lights for one hour once a year, and excessively waste energy for the rest, and our planet will be fine – which is not true.

Lomborg says even if the entire world switches off all residential lights for one hour to reduce carbon dioxide emission, that would only match China halting its carbon dioxide emissions for less than four minutes.

Earth Hour constitutes a very insignificant portion of annual electricity consumption

1.3 billion people live on our planet without electricity. These people don’t have access to low cost electricity outlets, a situation better known as “energy poverty”. The whole world switching off their lights doesn’t change anything for them.

The solution to global warming doesn’t lie in simply turning out the lights but innovation and green technologies that transform the future of energy. We need to look for solutions that are sustainable and affordable for future generations to come.

And let’s not forget about the importance of individual change. If you’re really going for Earth Hour this Saturday, your devices can wait. It’s not about keeping your lights off for one hour on one day and wasting electricity for the remaining 364. It’s about standing up for change and protecting planet Earth for our children and grandchildren. From switching off the lights when you leave a room, all the way to adopting low-carbon vegetarian diets, even the smallest changes make a difference.

To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Video commenting on Earth Hour by Copenhagen Consensus.

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