Saturday, 28 March 2015

Earth Hour makes me feel weird (still, don't be inefficient)

Being a contrarian simply for the lulz isn't really worthwhile. You just end up alienating friends and attracting idiots. At risk of doing both, there's something about Earth Hour that I need to get off my chest.

Earth Hour is now into its eighth year, and it's become a powerful tradition in more ways than one.

Along with the requisite display of environmental awareness - the symbolic switching-off of one's lights and appliances - come a veritable tsunami of terrible, clich├ęd, furious responses from a conservative base that's automatically stirred by the mix of acceptance-of-climate-science, environmental-awareness and perceived-slacktivism. These are things they are truly disgusted by. It stirs emotion in them that you and I cannot parse.

The angry critique of Earth Hour centres around the perception that Earth Hour is somehow anti-human - that it calls for the regression of the human species, back to fire and hunting and unlit caves.

It's an argument that triggers the passions of people who aren't able to detect the fallacy. It seems to be an affront to everything we've worked hard to acquire - plasma televisions, electric lighting, abundant, relatively cheap electricity. Like clockwork, it inspires an equal and opposite reaction:

"An alternative celebration of "Human Achievement Hour" was promoted by the libertarian think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute to celebrate the advancement of human prosperity....participants in this celebration were asked to "celebrate the achievements of humanity such as eating dinner, seeing a film, driving around, keeping the heat on in your home""

Though the logic is truly absurd, it's still hard to argue against the perception that Earth Hour is urging us to live in darkness, considering it's an hour in which we live in darkness. This is not what energy efficiency is. Reducing the quantity of energy you use without any major alterations to your lifestyle is easy, effective but hard to sex up for global campaigns.

The biggest reason Earth Hour makes me shift uncomfortably in my seat is because it unintentionally paints a picture of future loss, despite this not being what a clean / low energy world would look like. The Earth Hour FAQ states that:

"Earth hour does not claim that the event is an energy or carbon reduction exercise - it is a symbolic action. Therefore, we do not engage in the measurement of energy or carbon reduction levels. Earth Hour is an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take accountability for their ecological footprint and engage in dialogue and resource exchange that provides real solutions to our environmental challenges. Participation in Earth Hour symbolises a commitment to change beyond the hour"

Reactive, snarky comparisons to the carbon emissions of paraffin candles vs electricity consumption of light globes miss the point - the event is more a collective 'awareness raising exercise', than a mechanism for emissions reduction. But the point itself seems to have its own issues.

I don't understand why we can't inject the same quantity of motivation from marketing in an exercise that actually leads to a measurable, quantifiable reduction. Energy efficieny is, inherently, something with the potential for widespread support. The right loathes inefficiency, and the left loathes over-consumption and environmental harm. Earth Hour builds a wall in the middle, by framing demand reduction as a value-based action.

Perhaps we could gamify the goal of cheaper electricity bills through altered habits - I do it at home, and it works quite well. I like the idea of big, sweeping change - something that shatters crusty, fetid old styles of thinking. This is why I relish being part of the renewable energy industry.

Earth Hour, as it stands, isn't clear on what it's symbolising. To a passionate, angry and illogical few, it symbolises a desire to destroy civilisation. To others, surely, it encourages behaviour that eventually leads to a reduction in energy consumption, and consequently, lower carbon emissions. I'd like to see the first reaction gone, and the second reaction occur consistently among everyone.

Pushing down the quantity of electricity we consume means acknowledging that some react viscerally and angrily to issues framed as collective environmental action. Like a clockwork, it makes them go nuts. They start talking about candles and jets and they lose their minds. This doesn't mean collective environmental action is something to be avoided. It just means we need to accommodate both world views, not just one. We'd see a much higher reduction in carbon emissions, and a bigger change in behaviour.

We want that, right?


  1. Do you have an idea for an alternative visible way to show that you support a more environmentally friendly society? A yearly demonstration may also be nice, but something with a smaller threshold to join, like just turning of the lights, would be a real alternative. Showing this support is necessary to convince politicians to stand up against the interests of industry, which is a power to be counted with.

    1. Maybe the point is that if we are still requiring symbolic actions then we must be unengaged in actual emissions reduction to the point of screaming CRITICAL DECADE PEOPLE. I don't think Earth Hour engages people who can be reached with these kinds of symbolic who are not already onboard with climate action, in their homes, in their lives. Over 1 million homes have solarPV, more than half that's largely on the monetary payback deal but all 100% they get the low emissions co-benefit. How many houses do Earth Hour. I know what is 100% more effective of the two.