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Is Earth Hour just a pointless publicity stunt?

Earth Hour 2009

This past weekend it was Earth Hour, a global climate change event in which millions of people from around the world participate in by turning off their lights. For one hour. According to the campaigners of Earth Hour this will “make a statement about the urgent need for action on climate change”. But isn’t Earth Hour just a huge and pointless greenwash stunt to make us feel good about our self?

George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network and the author of Carbon Detox and the blog climatedenial.org, argues that Earth Hour is "misguided" and "counterproductive" saying it makes more harm than good.

"Repeatedly in focus groups, people adopt a defensive stance against people who – they feel – are using the issue to take away material benefits. Asking people to sit in the dark plays very well to a widely held prejudice that "the greens" want us all to go back to living in caves.

[...]The metaphors of darkness are overwhelmingly negative: danger, decay, and death. We see the dark ages as a time of brutality. Poets such as Dylan Thomas call on us to "rage against the dying of the light". Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the first world war said "the lamps are going out all over Europe". Really the cultural resonance could hardly be worse."

Nashville Earth Hour 2009

Creative Commons License Photo credit: southerntabitha

Joel Makower from Green Biz said he would not take part in Earth Hour, saying it’s a “hollow gesture”that “does little to educate or change long-term habits”:

“Turning off the lights for one hour seems a meek and hollow gesture, a feel-good measure that may fleetingly raise awareness, but does little to educate or change long-term habits, let alone "take control over the future of our planet." It is, simply put, a media event in search of actual content.

Case in point: The "Take Action" section of the Earth Hour website contains a wealth of information about how to stage an Earth Hour event, but absolutely nothing -- nothing! -- about how to address climate change the other 8,759 hours of the year. There's information on how to blog, tweet, and YouTube your hour of darkness, but not a word about energy-efficient appliances, home insulation, energy-efficient vehicles, carpooling, mass transit, or any of the countless other measures a billion people should be taking. (And nothing about spending Earth Hour replacing those switched-off light bulbs with more energy-efficient models.)”

Earth Hour - Three Candles and Marble in Hand

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Dan Zen

And did you also think that by turning off your energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and lighting candles instead would be better for the environment? Well you might have to re-think that as Sean Carmody gives the case on why you shouldn’t light too many candles during Earth Hour:

“A 7W CFL bulb gives about the same amount of light as a 40W incandescent bulb or around 40 candles. However, the carbon emissions from this bulb is equivalent to one candle. Admittedly, this is a fairly dim bulb, so you’d be more likely to be using a brighter bulb. But even if we considered a 14W CFL bulb (equivalent to a traditional 75W bulb) this produces emissions equivalent to two candles but the light output of almost 80 candles.

So if it was just about reducing emissions, you would be far better off leaving on CFL bulbs (and switching as many of your old bulbs to CFL as possible) than lighting candles at home or in bars and restaurants.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am happy that Earth Hour has grown from a local event in Australia into an extraordinary global event to highlight the climate crisis. All honor to the WWF for making it to what it is today. But unfortunately I think a publicity event like this is a few years too late. Everyone already knows what kind of devastating threat man-made climate change is, although a few people foolishly try to deny it.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: fabbio

The campaigners for Earth Hour have gone so far in their efforts to promote this hour that they claim in various commercials and ads that if you participate you will be voting for earth. Now that is just misleading! The obsolete politicians that blocks strong actions on climate change wouldn’t care less, or even notice, if you turned off your lights in your home for one hour. They would just be happy that you wasted an hour that could have been better spent emailing or writing to your elected officials demanding actions to be taken against the environmental and climate crisis. You don’t “vote for earth” until you actually stand in the booth on election day and vote for a political party that promises to bring real change if elected.

Instead I think Earth Hour should be transform from a one hour event into a day of action. A day where you go out on the streets and protest in favor of action and against inaction. The elected officials and the media will definitely take notice of a day like that.

Last year on the day before Earth Hour I asked if this, one hour, of turning down your electricity, is all we in the developed world is willing to do? I hope that is not the case. But time is running out.

Simply put. If this is all we global citizens can muster up in support for meaningful actions against climate change, well, then we are pretty much screwed.

What do you think? Does Earth Hour make more harm than good? Is Earth Hour just a pointless publicity stunt? Or does it actually send a strong message about the urgency for action on climate change?

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