The news today is full of talk about Earth Hour. Frankly, I think the idea is stupid. Telling people to turn out the lights for one hour one day has a trivial impact. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with approaches that actually would. Shutting down the lights in a brief symbolic gesture does nothing to change the energy basis of our society. Replacing one ordinary light bulb with a compact fluorescent one would have a bigger impact in the long term, and would at least suggest an understanding that brief voluntary abstinence from energy use is no solution whatsoever. Earth Hour is akin to choosing to fast for one hour and hoping that it will send a strong message to the factory farming industry.
Earth Hour reinforces many of the fallacies people believe about climate change, such as:
- It will mostly be solved through consumer choices
- Voluntary efforts are enough
- It’s the visible changes that really matter
As discussed at length here in the past, it is very likely that none of these things are true. Climate change will only be dealt with when the energy basis of society has changed enough that the most greedy and selfish people are nonetheless leading low-carbon lives. That requires massive infrastructure change over the course of decades – the progressive replacement of high carbon options with low carbon and finally zero carbon ones. Earth Hour is, at best, a distraction from this process.
[Update: 25 March 2009] Judging by the Google searches, another ‘Earth Hour’ is coming up. I still think the exercise is a pointless one. Moving to a sustainable society isn’t about reducing energy use for one hour, it’s about reforming the energy basis of society. Tokenistic environmental gestures do no good, and help to convince people that the real changes we need are trivially easy.
[Update: 24 March 2011] Looking back over it, what I have written about Earth Hour before is a bit harsh. Yes, I think the basic idea of turning out the lights for an hour is a weak one. At the same time, environmental groups presumable use Earth Hour as an opportunity to communicate with the public. It might have less value as a symbolic action, and more as a simple advertising opportunity, in terms of direct communication with the public and media exposure.