Still in the dark about Earth Hour?

Yes yes, I’ve been told that Earth Hour is all about “raising awareness” about “climate change”. I’ve also commented that I really don’t think it’s necessary to raise any more awareness about something we can’t get through a single Pistorius-free day without having rammed down our collective gullet.

In addition, I may also have mentioned that Earth Hour gives slacktivists the perfect opportunity to enjoy their favourite pastime, namely thinking that they’re making a difference without actually making a difference at all. In fact, as that article on Slate pointed out, lighting an inefficient candle (which most bunny-huggers and pseudo bunny-huggers will do this evening) is actually more harmful to our precious environment than using a fat incandescent light bulb for an hour (or, by extrapolation, any given period of time). But how much more harmful?

Well, I’ve found someone who has done some rudimentary calculations to find out exactly how much:

I know candles are nice and romantic – but you’re taking paraffin wax, in the form of a candle, and burning it, very inefficiently, at a low temperature. This stuff is pure hydrocarbon – it’s a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight off crude oil. This stuff is getting so scarce that nations are prepared to go to war just to secure it, remember?

A candle flame burns at a low temperature – so it’s a thermodynamically very inefficient source of energy – and most of the energy released in a candle is wasted as heat, anyway.

Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, as it does in Australia, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting.

Luke Weston then spoon feeds us through his calculations, just so that there can be no confusion as to how he reaches his conclusion. I’m not going to reproduce all those calculations here, but suffice to say that the results (standardised for the amount of light produced – apples with apples and all that) are as follows:

A incandescent bulb produces 1.11g CO2 for each hour that it is burned.
A candle produces 10.69g  for each hour that it is burned.

Therefore, for every candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.6 g of carbon dioxide.
If the light output from a 40 W light bulb was to be completely replaced by candles, this will lead to the emission of an extra 295 grams of carbon dioxide per over simply using the electric lights – if the equivalent of one thousand 40 W bulbs are replaced by candles, that’s an extra 295 kilograms of CO2 emitted.

I don’t know about you, but I can feel it getting warmer already.

Thus, if you really want to “make a difference” this evening (a positive difference, that is), you’ll be far better off sitting in the dark for an hour. And, if you want to DOUBLE the your contribution to saving the planet, you could do it for two.

But then we have to remember that there’s football and rugby in Cape Town tonight which you’ll want to watch on your dirty, still not ever so energy efficient flatscreen TV, dwarfing any potential benefits of switching off your lights and (not) firing up a candle.

Fortunately, this darkness and/or watching sport will (possibly) restrict the amount of “other activities” that some people have been suggesting might be an enjoyable and romantic by-product of an environment-destroying candlelit evening. I say “fortunately” because my wife is away this evening because each baby produced from those “other activities” will add so much to your household carbon footprint that you might as well stop washing out those Marmite jars and begin weeping right now:

Take, for example, a hypothetical American woman who switches to a more fuel-efficient car, drives less, recycles, installs more efficient light bulbs, and replaces her refrigerator and windows with energy-saving models. If she had two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy would eventually rise to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.

So. Please spend your Earth Hour in the dark. No lights, no candles, certainly no TV and ABSOLUTELY NO HANKY PANKY!

And even then, please don’t pretend that you’re actually making a difference.

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