earth hour 2012

Tonight is Eath Hour 2012, when people all over the world will be turning off their lights, electronics and non-essential appliances to lower their energy consumption and make a symbolic statement, drawing attention to climate change as well as affirming they will try to lower their overall energy consumption and impact on the planet. The event started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 when 2.2 million people participated in the event, conceived by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Sydney Morning Herald. This is the website for the event.

The event has already begun in Australia and Asia at the time of this post, as observed in this article. The article also states that Canadian utilities are getting involved:

B.C. Hydro made a pitch on its website, urging consumers to join in and also make plans to reduce energy use year around. Last year’s response shows what people can do, the utility said on its website. “British Columbians turned off the equivalent of 7.8 million 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs for the hour,” the utility said. “If everyone in B.C. implemented the same conservation measures for just one hour every evening, the combined savings would be enough to power close to 4,000 homes for an entire year.”

Ontario electricity provider Hydro One said it would mark Earth Hour by turning off non-essential electrical equipment at its office facilities across the province.

This event is lauded by many. As one example, the National Post published this article today by Canadian celebrity contractor Mike Holmes, titled “Honour Earth Hour, every hour”. In it, Holmes describes the impact that this event makes as a statement to our governments, that participants are focused on the importance of sustainable practices and lowering our carbon footprint. He also points out that everyone can make responsible choices in their professional and personal lives. He says:

In 2009, I attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. I had the honour of being the eminent advisor to the Canadian government on sustainable building technology and its effect on climate change. It became clear to me that we all need to make a commitment to change. Building green and building sustainably are part of my future as a contractor. It should be part of any responsible builder who cares about the kind of future we’re building.

Many city governments, energy utilities and corporations around the world mark Earth Hour, with more countries participating in the event every year. Even some groups that air television during the event are participating in some way – for example, the NHL is taking part by turning off non-essential lighting at all games scheduled for Saturday night, and the league’s New York City headquarters will also observe Earth Hour.

There is also a great deal of criticism for the event. It has been pointed out that candles are made from paraffin wax, a fossil fuel derivitive, and could be more harmful than just continuing to use electric lights. The event has also been argued to be anti-technology, as posted here and here. In the latter article, the Ayn Rand Centre wrote:

Participants spend an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away… Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month…Try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible.

As well, a movement started by the libertarian think-tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, called the “Human Achievement Hour” (HAH) encourages the opposite at the same time as Earth Hour, to “celebrate the achievements of humanity such as eating dinner, seeing a film, driving around, keeping the heat on in your home”.

I can see the point of these kinds of arguments, questioning the usefulness of the Earth Hour movement. Does sitting in the dark for an hour raise awareness? Does this action achieve perceivable results, or is it more akin to greenwashing – creating the perception instead of a reality of doing something for the environment?

However, I think these articles and actions like the HAH miss the fact that the event isn’t calling for a renunciation of electricity or any of the modern marvels humanity have produced. My understanding is that the event attempts to show us how we can be less energy dependant and work to lower our individual consumption. I am proud of where humanity is and all that we have achieved, but I think we can always do better. Locally, London Hydro has been distributing electricity to our city for over 100 years, but we can always find better ways to produce, distribute and consume that energy. But how?

We could have a “use a little less energy hour” but that kind of action isn’t likely to draw much press or attention. In the end, it is all about personal choice and personal responsibility. Does Earth Hour shape people’s perceptions of the environment and encourage them to make more informed energy decisions?

I believe it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. I honestly love Earth Hour, both for the experience and for recognizing the lifestyle I want to continue to lead. I think that part of the appeal is the opportunity to turn off the lights, turn off all the electronic devices, and spend quality time with the people important to us (similar to Adbuster Magazine’s TV Turnoff Week). It’s also an affirmation of my attempt to consume less resources – not just in the focused hour, but in my everyday life as well. I try to keep my consumption of resources like water and energy low, produce less waste by purchasing as little packaging as possible, composting etc.; Earth Hour is a great reminder of that. Lowering my energy consumption for an hour won’t likely have much of an impact, but I believe having communities across the world sharing in this experience is a great global affirmation of what our entire planet can do to lower our impact on the planet.

My  beliefs about this event have also been shaped by the year I spent working for London Hydro. My school and work experience is entirely outside the realm of energy, so I was very interested to find the entire corporation was geared towards the event, and works to advertise both for Earth Hour itself as well as for lower energy consumption, both as a means of reducing strain on the distribution system as well as lowering the environmental impact of energy production. While I was there, I watched as the head of engineering worked with a local solar panel distributer as well as Fanshawe College and UWO to place panels throughout the city as a green energy initiative. There are now panels providing energy to the main London Hydro office as well as other high-visibility city/college/university properties throughout the city, including an array of panels on the rooftop of the Covent Garden Market (more information available here). I find this kind of project very encouraging, and signals LH’s intent to partner with others and produce energy in the city using renewable resources instead of relying entirely on energy distributed to us by Hydro One.

As I said, I believe we can be proud of our technological achievements while working to use that technology to find better ways to meet our energy needs. We can and should be proud of what we’ve produced, while aiming to leave our province, country and world in the best condition possible for future generations. With 7,000,000,000+ people on the planet and more joining us every moment,  we need to be serious about preserving our planet as we struggle to share our limited resources with an ever-increasing amount of people. Any effort to raise awareness and to limit each individual’s long-term impact is commendable and to be encouraged, in my opinion.

Tonight, I’ll be turning off my electronic devices, turning off the lights and spending a quieter, focused night with friends. I hope that you’ll give it a try too.