The Earth Hour has no clothes
Recently I received an email extolling me to participate in Earth Hour. It included an article that started like this:
Lights out in 84 countries for Earth Hour 2009The first thing I though of when I read this was: Do the Eiffel Tower, the Sears Tower, the Acropolis, or the Great Pyramids really need much if any lighting at that hour anyway? I mean I'm pretty sure the Pyramids did just fine without any lights at all for the first forty-five centuries.
By CARYN ROUSSEAU, AP
CHICAGO — The lights are going down from the Great Pyramids to the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower to Sears Tower, as more than 2,800 municipalities in 84 countries plan Saturday to mark the second worldwide Earth Hour ... the time zone-by-time zone plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to highlight global climate change.
If promoters of this event had been pushing even a day without lights, I'd be a tiny bit impressed. But an hour? For everyone to sit around and ponder what a great thing they're doing while burning petroleum based candles? One eight-thousandth of a year? And only lights - a small fraction of energy consumption. Nothing about heat or air conditioning or water heating or driving or flying or...
I guess I'd like it better if it were a more meaningful gesture. Turning your lights off doesn't save much energy, especially if you have energy-efficient bulbs. It doesn't even lead to a repeatable habit. People who turned their lights off for Earth Hour aren't likely to think, "Hey, that was easy. Let's do that every night!" And even if they did, it wouldn't make much difference in electricity usage.
If somebody's going to go to all the trouble to organize a worldwide symbolic campaign, couldn't they find something more substantial or useful?
We could all unplug our fridges for an hour (and clean the dust off the coils). Or turn off our computers. Or skip meat. Inflate our tires. Stay out of our cars for a day. Or adjust our thermostats by 5 degrees. Close our curtains on a hot summer day. Start a compost pile. Plant a garden. In other words, do something that could both have a noticeable short-term impact (a big dip in power usage) and show the way toward a long-term big impact.
Is it better to get a large number of people to make a tiny blip, or a smaller number of people learning how to take bigger steps?
No they're not mutually exclusive. And yes, some people will be sparked to make bigger changes as a result. But to me, it's the "green" equivalent of those "We Support Our Troops" magnets on the backs of people's cars - mostly harmless and largely symbolic.
Maybe I'm wrong. If electricity consumption starts a downward trend because of Earth Hour, I will shout it from the rooftops and dance a jig. In the meantime, I just wish that whoever organized it had come up with something a little more substantive.