Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No Hour of Power


Turn off your lights every day of the year to make a difference

Richard Hartung,

090418-PowerSave EARTH Hour in Singapore last month energised thousands of people to take action and do their part to reduce the perils of global warming. But despite the mass participation, focusing on turning off the lights for just one hour may actually have been counterproductive. If Earth Hour made it seem like only a single hour of change is all that’s needed, it may also have sent a message that the other 8,759 hours of the year aren’t really so important.

The publicity for Earth Hour certainly did encourage action. Television commercials, signs at bus stops, advertisements, postcards and newspaper reports pushed people to do their part. The “60” logo — symbolising 60 minutes of darkness — seemed ubiquitous. Broadcasters picked up on the buzz, so listeners constantly heard about the need to turn off their lights. Many conversations the week before Earth Hour touched on “what will you be doing for Earth Hour?”

Hundreds of corporations and thousands of individuals chose to turn off the power for that one hour. Some schools and companies even turned off their lights for the entire weekend. At 8.30pm on March 28, lights were switched off in buildings around town, and thousands turned up for a celebration at Esplanade Park.

The actual impact, though, turned out to be limited. Power usage during the period dropped by less than 0.1 per cent, according to some estimates, though that figure could be higher if one counts the electricity not consumed for the entire weekend. While a walk around the CBD showed the lights were off in some buildings, lights remained on in so many restaurants, flats and offices it was a little hard to tell it was Earth Hour.

After all the hoopla, at 9.31pm, it was all over. And it’s when the lights came back on that the ideal behind Earth Hour started to show its cracks.

It was time to turn the lights back on for the rest of the next year. Unless participants understood that they need to do what they did during Earth Hour all year long, they could well feel they’ve already done their part for the entire year. And scheduling the hour conveniently on a weekend may have sent out the signal that all we need to do is lay off the lights once a year at a convenient time.

Earth Hour risks becoming a short-term annual fad rather than the first step of a longer-term solution to reduce global warming.

Not a fun run

It’s sort of like your doctor telling you to start exercising by signing up for a 10km charity fun run, then neglecting to say that you need to practice beforehand and continue afterwards. Running just once a year isn’t enough. Only by starting to exercise before the event and continuing to exercise afterwards are you likely to stay healthy. Similarly, only with continued efforts to reduce energy usage is the earth likely to become healthy again.

As conservation advocates like Nobel Laureate Al Gore have said, saving the planet requires changes to your daily routine. Every day!

More than 2,500 scientists gathered in Copenhagen in early March called for “sustained and effective mitigation” to avoid “dangerous climate change”. Saving the world is about reducing power usage and sustained action all year long.

Earth Hour organisers might contend, of course, that the event was a small but important step. As Carine Seror of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in response to one inquiry: “The larger objective of the Earth Hour campaign just might help us make a start” on saving the earth, and the event highlighted “a growing momentum all over the world to make change a reality”.

More than focusing on just the one hour, however, the clear message needs to be that continual action throughout the year is critical for reducing climate change. One solution could be to promote Earth Hour as a start and then show what to do every day — even after Earth Hour is over — to make a difference. Another could be publicising lessons like the Nature Conservancy’s “What You Can Do”, which shows what we can do every day — not for just one hour, but all year long — to make a real difference.

While money and resources to promote change are understandably scarce, re-examining the premise behind Earth Hour and using the event to promote long-term change could make sure that the actual message gets across.

Just like a 10km run, Earth Hour has the benefit of prompting some people to do something. To make a real difference, though, the message that change needs to happen throughout the year needs to sink in. While the intent of Earth Hour is good, it’s only a start, and the message should be that we all need to take action every hour of every day to save our planet.


From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009


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