Slate: Earth Hour is all wrong

Ah yes. Another annual opportunity for slacktivism approaches. If you’re all done with clicking LIKE to cure some Indian child with a facial abscess and you’ve signed that online petition against whales (or Wales), you too can switch your lights off for an hour and save the planet.

Or… er… not:

If switching off the lights for one hour per year really were beneficial, why would we not do it for the other 8,759?
Hypothetically, switching off the lights for an hour would cut CO2 emissions from power plants around the world. But, even if everyone in the entire world cut all residential lighting, and this translated entirely into CO2 reduction, it would be the equivalent of China pausing its CO2 emissions for less than four minutes.

Well worth it then? No.

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 if you do still decide to continue with switching the lights off, then don’t even think about lighting a candle:

[They] are still fossil fuels—and almost 100 times less efficient than incandescent light bulbs. Using one candle for each switched-off bulb cancels out even the theoretical CO2 reduction; using two candles means that you emit more CO2.

That won’t bother anyone taking part though, because they will feel that they are doing their bit, making a difference. And while a little bit of me wants to correct them on that fact, it’ll only upset them. And the only thing worse than a misinformed tree-hugger is a sad tree-hugger.

But, if you are one of those people who thinks that they can absolve themselves of all their environmental misdeeds simply by clicking a switch on Saturday, perhaps you should consider a better way of reducing your impact on the planet, because what you are planning is a complete waste of time – and electricity.

  • Caz

    The good news is that WWF (earth hour organizers) are not a bunch of idiots. They’re scientists and conservative ones at that. The media may get the messaging wrong, but officially I can assure you that earth hour has nothing to do with electricity! It’s simply a show of solidarity when it comes to climate change. It’s a call to action. It’s saying “look we can all work together as one planet for the good”. Wwf have never ever made it about saving electricity (in fact they’re usually on the radio and tv during the hour). Companies like eskom send out the energy saving stats each year ( unfortunately because it confuses people). The power of earth hour is this: it’s a first step, a very low hanging fruit. Grannies who have never identified with the environmental movement can participate because it is so simple. From there they become part of a broader movement and may decide to take bolder steps for the planet. It’s a mindset thing to a large extent. And in this way its pretty powerful. Make sense?

  • Caz > Makes sense, sure. And we were doing so well until that “From there…” line near the end. Because they don’t “become part of a broader movement”. They simply smile at the way they saved the planet this evening and then they’ll switch their lights off for an hour next March too.

    It makes absolutely no difference.
    It’s 5 and/or 6 years old now depending on your point of view, and it’s got us nowhere.

    Yes, it’s easy to take part in, and that may be the joy of it, but it’s also exactly the problem. It merely encourages people to think that they’ve done their bit, they’ve made that difference, they’ve had that thought. It doesn’t go any further than that. It’s like sharing a Facebook status or RTing a tweet.
    You haven’t actually DONE anything aside from appeasing your conscience. And, in this case, increased global CO2 levels ever so slightly.

  • Caz

    Possibly for most, but at the very least those who sign up for earth hour receive info and encouragement from eg an online community on how to do more and “go beyond the hour” (which has been the theme of the last few years). This could spur more action and understanding.
    For me (and surely for some others) the more green I claim to be the more green I actually need to be.
    Buuuuuuut at the end of the day, if china and the states don’t change, I can recycle and cycle and grow my veggies and avoid meat and go solar and and and and it won’t make any difference. Why do I still do all that stuff then? Because I’d STILL rather do what I can.

  • Caz

    Oh ya: aaaaand just like the 16 days of activism and breast cancer awareness month and world water week and all those things go, earth hour serves the NB purpose of giving the media a reason to talk climate change again (not easy when very little changes over the short term for them to write about)

  • Caz > We all do what we can and that’s great. And if the environmental people and the WWF want to continue to promote this, then that’s also nice, because that’s their job, even if raising awareness on “global warming” and “climate change” is something I really don’t think we need any more of.
    What they mustn’t do – and what they are doing – is making it seem like people are making an appreciable difference by turning a light off for an hour once a year. I have yet to see anyone who on (for example) Sunday March 24th turned their lights off for an hour. It’s transient: gone, forgotten, pointless.

    Re you second comment (which I only just saw): Anyone who needs more awareness about these issues must be living under a rock. An existence which, ironically, probably makes their lifestyle completely carbon neutral.

  • This little guy made me smile a bit!! I’m all about doing my part but….I’m also a strong believer in that we can’t take back what is already out there. It’s like teaching your kid to say sorry…yea it is the right thing to do but sorry doesn’t make the hurt of that punch you just landed go away, ya know?!?
    I’m less worried about what I”m emitting into the air at this point as to how many people are snagging free electricity in our country which is why Eskom proposes 35% increases every frackin’ year!! Maybe….maybe if we cut our electricity everyday for an hour in this country in 10 years we could stop load shedding!! ;0

  • Gary

    The part that gets me is that it’s all about carbon saving and so on. And here in Cape Town they make a big show of switching OFF the Table Mountain lights. Thing is, in order to do that, they have to switch them ON first, something that on any other normal Saturday night doesn’t happen…so in order to send the message to save the planet, they first have to kill it…

  • Ronnie

    About as effective as growing a moustache to cure prostate cancer…

    I’ll still do it though…. (switch off my lights, NOT grow a moustache)

  • Gary > As an awareness thing, I’m sure it works, but aren’t we all already aware enough already? Really?
    And yes, your point is good. Like a sponsored drive to get us all to save petrol. Odd.

    Ronnie > Of course switch your lights off. Why would you need two moustaches?

  • Ronnie

    Meanie!