Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Earth Hour: 60 minute gimmicks

India is bucking the worldwide trend and ignoring this weekend much-hyped Earth Hour which will be observed across four continents. The event started in Sydney last year where observers claimed 57 per cent of local residents took and place and electricity consumption was reduced by 10.2 per cent during the 60 minute campaign. Earth Hour is now spreading its wings internationally to at least 13 countries where it will be observed at 8pm local time this Saturday. Bangkok, Dublin, Chicago, Suva, Copenhagen, Manila, Tel Aviv, Christchurch and Toronto are among 24 cities joining Sydney in a campaign begun just last year by the international environmental group World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).

But this apparent goodness in aid of environmental change is not all that it seems. Some critics argue that any saving would have to be offset against additional carbon burned during the publicity campaign for Earth Hour. Others suggested the original statistics for the 2007 version were exaggerated. The University of Chicago’s David Solomon did a statistical analysis (pdf) of the impact of Sydney’s 2007 version. He found that once factors common throughout the day were removed from the apparent decline, actual consumption dropped by just 2.1 per cent (not the 10.2 per cent claimed by Energy Australia), which he says is “statistically indistinguishable from zero”. Solomon says there is no reliable evidence the event caused any significant decline in NSW electricity consumption.

Solomon’s analysis proves that because there is negligible tangible benefit to the environment, the event is entirely symbolic in meaning. Nevertheless NSW Premier Morris Iemma is refusing to countenance any criticism of Earth Hour. "The critics and sceptics need to get on board," he said when pledging to dim Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House for the occasion. "It's utter rubbish to say that symbolism can't lead to change."

Many don’t share Iemma’s view. Libertarian Catallaxy’s Jason Soon describes the event as a “ridiculous fad” and says its fundamental premise is about “Romanticist aesthetics” which he described as “the thought of being able to see the stars because all artificial lights are turned off and the idea of a retreat to an idyllic past that never existed when cavemen and cavewomen sang kumbaya around a fire”. Soon makes the cogent point that whatever it stands for, it is hardly about efficient energy use which should be based on everyday practice not an extravagant one-off event.

The pointlessness of Earth Hour is gleefully pointed out by climate change sceptics such as Tim Blair. Blair’s mockery has extended to the creation of an alternative event he calls the Hour of Power where he encourages everyone to use as much electricity as possible during the Earth Hour. Blogger Samantha Burns has launched a similar Anti-Earth Hour campaign against what she calls “globalised gullability.” Like Blair, she is suggesting a counter-measure of switching every household appliance on to counter the effects of Earth Hour. But both Burns and Blair are trying to have it both ways, they mock the stupidity of Earth Hour and then suggest an equally lame counter-measure, and in the process give Earth Hour unintended credit and respect it does not deserve.

Earth Hour is a gimmick. This point is acknowledged by supporters such as Mike Garfield, executive director of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he said Earth Hour is “great theatre if it's done on a large scale.” "The first thing is that an event like Earth Hour shows the world how much of an impact an individual has the environment," he said. "To see the aerial photographs of cities lit up at night all of a sudden going dark almost has the impact of seeing the Earth from outer space."

(Image credit: Sydney Observatory)
Earth Hour is a brand owned jointly by WWF Australia, Fairfax Media and the advertising company Leo Burnett Worldwide. And the event is great publicity for all three organisations. As part of the campaign, Leo Burnett created a 30-second advertising spot showing lights being doused across the city, as well as print executions, radio ads, web, posters, postcards, press packs, brand partnerships and merchandise. Leo executive creative director Mark Collis described the event as a “little hippyish”. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. Over 600 very unhippyish businesses and corporations, such as McDonald's, Qantas, Coca-Cola and HSBC have supported the event seeing the benefit of wrapping themselves in the green flag.

Participation in Earth Hour is a salve for people who are otherwise thoughtless about their impact on the environment. It becomes a one hour penance for spendthrift activity and as soon as it is over, they can go back to their TVs and entertainment units, and continue to live their lives the way they always have. They can even feel good about it having “sacrificed” an hour in the battle against climate change. And while Victoria will delight in saving 21 million black balloons in one hour, Australia’s selfishly-high carbon emissions will continue to balloon serenely. The Earth needs a lot more than an hour of our time.


David said...

I think this is the first sensible criticism of Earth Hour I've read. I support the idea of Earth Hour but I can understand its detractors (yes, it's symbolic) and it's refreshing to see one that's a bit more sophisticated than "These people are all so STUPID, I'm turning all my lights ON, LOL!".

Rick said...

Well said.

Earth Hour kicks off in Christchurch and my team aim to make sure the other end of the Earth Hour message gets through.

We're doing a counter-protest.

Act On Campus

American said...

Great posting, some sense at last...

am said...

I think earth hour is a start. Sure, it might seem a little gimmicky and not lead to short-term radical cuts in greenhouse emissions, but change has to start somewhere. I don’t think the aim of the campaign is to go back to the caveman days or get everyone to change their lifestyles overnight, but rather to instil a culture of change into our lives, especially for children who aren’t so set in their ways. If companies want to take this as an opportunity to market their green credentials, let them. But at least this means that they have recognised the growing environmental concerns of their customers, which could lead to bigger and better changes later.

For those people who believe it’s rubbish, fine. But, really, there’s no need to resort to sabotage.

Rick said...

If it's rubbish then the friends of Earth Hour are the ones doing the sabotage.

To oppose sabotage is not sabotage. It might be nobility, or a word that means the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to "lunch hour"?

Perhaps instead of bending over double to make a silly symbolic gesture, people could actually send money or food to people who are ACTUALLY starving to death.

What a sad ironic act of foolishness.

And yes I will be turning on my lights, because I live in the real world, not the pretend world.

Anonymous said...

Christchurch DJ says "If you wonder why it is so dark out, it's earth hour!" I'm wondering why it is so NOT dark. The Earth Hour website says we're supposed to be 'cloaked in darkness'. NOT! No street lights were turned out! Was the City Council involvement limited to the Mayor making a speech and turning out the lights shining on the Cathedral? Oooooo whooptie. The city was as bright as ever. Looking over the city from the hills, NOTHING CHANGED. I heard kids calling "LIGHTS OUT! LIGHTS OUT" fruitlessly. This was pure overhyped LAMENESS.

Anonymous said...

I never realized how many jackasses truly were out there. If you don't want to participate, fine, but don't be a jackass about it. It's not going to hurt anything, my god. Why don't you run down to the beach and kick sand in some children's eyes and tell them they're wasting their time building sandcastles, cause that's what your doing.

Burnt Couch said...

Luckily India barely has energy as is ;)

Rick said...

I did want to participate, and contributed more positively than anyone in the Square last night.

What these twits are putting out is harmful. It's lies and it's half the debate.

Earth Hour was taken up with a movie telling us about how guilty we should be for pumping out carbon! But this is nonsense.

William Eberwein said...

I've been wondering when American feminists will realize what will happen to the status of women if green policies are adopted! Wash and dry by hand, no AC, no disposable anything. The message: "Back to the kitchen, girls." Who has most benefited from harnessing oil? see:

Anonymous said...

Please read Samantha Burns petition on anti-Earth Hour at I think it's people like her that have nothing else to say but become a cynic to pretend they have a place in this world, when really they haven't done too much other than sitting on their couch eating cheetos, twinkies and getting all the more fatter the American way. Oh yes, toxins, chemicals and pollutants MUST BE good for us. That can't possibly be the reason that cancer was never heard of before this century, that the ozone is crumbling at a horrifyingly aggressive pace, and animal patterns are changing dramatically causing a scary shift in the food chain. No it can't possibly be us. Hey, why I don't we pretend like we're doing something by propagating the horrors of humanity and worship the God of plastics, petroleum and pollutants. But they are probably the same people that bitch about politics and religion without having a leg to stand on, because they hadn't done the research. Yep, she's probably the gal that skidded past highschool on D's, if she even made it out of highschool. She is a disgusting waste of space. Did you notice how all the idiots on there that praise the originator of that petition happen to be AMERICAN??? Yeah, you boneheads REALLY have it together, with the most extraordinary president you have ever elected. Most of you can't even spell, (note all american comments mispelled) are completely dumbass illiterate idiots with your heads up your big fat asses. But hey that's the American way. The only problem is is that you haven't done ANYTHING progressive EVER, to be able to be proud of your own people. Americans are the dumbest, most retarded, MOST OVERWEIGHT culture on the planet. I would never want to be mistaken for an American, and thank god I wasn't born to one. How do you feel in your oversized pizza sucking, lardslurping, 5 IQ bodies?? Well, actually you decide to sign a petition like that one so you feel a part of a "community". The whole world feels sorry for you people. It's THE one place the world WOULDN'T miss if you happened to fall off the face of the planet. GOD how sad you people are. PATHETIC

Anonymous said...

Please read

And feel free to comment

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

well In my opinion we need to be celebrating the immense freedom that electricity has given us.
I'm a huge supporter of Hour of Power the only argument that Earth hour has that I agree with is that it would be beautiful to see the stars.
Other than that it DOES no good to anyone and it's publicity is merely political.

Anuj Sood said...

Sensible stuff!!
A funny part of earth club is the ungenuine sense of responsibility and delight that one lavish user of electricity feels. He feels now licensed to use all power in word coz he's already done the tak on his part. Thus negative impact on saving!!
Most ppl 'd do anything that makes them green, which is newest cool trend!!!
Countries like India also started participating in this show-off gimmick. what does it mean to those millions countrymen who dont have even access to electricity or billion others who face "black hours" daily due to power shortage/cuts. No sympathy or a tag of green and cool for them??

Anonymous said...

I think Earth Hour is more about awareness rather than conserving energy for that specific hour. You can protest all you want, you can turn on all your household appliances during the hour, but you should realize you won't make any lasting effect. Earth hour is known all over the world and is used to change our attitude toward our planet. Those of you who decide to protest, and turn all your lights on: Global Warming is a serious issue, and you are the ones killing our plant. And By the way, enjoy paying the electricity bill after you run all the appliances and turn on ALL your lights..

Anonymous said...

People seem to defend the problems surrounding Earth Hour by claiming it is symbolic or is about raising awareness. But my question is, how!?! How can a gesture that does NOT save energy, and in all likelihood wastes it, according to experts, promote saving energy? It just makes no sense to me. What you are asking is that I believe in the IDEA that turning off the lights for that hour saves energy and that this is somehow the main thing. Well to me it ends up symbolising what it really is - engaging people in an empty gesture that is removed from any factual basis for effective action.

To me, it is like getting everyone to go out and buy a newspaper and put it straight in the recycling bin and then claiming it raises awareness on recycling. No one would ever do that, yet this Earth Hour is the same thing! The reason no one would do a ridiculous recycling campaign like that is because most people would immediately see the logical flaw.

But Earth Hour coasts on the belief held by most people participating that they are saving energy during that hour. I sincerely doubt they could sell the idea on a campaign of 'hey we might waste some energy when we turn all the lights back on at the same time, but the important thing is we thought about it!'. They rely on the lack of knowledge about the actual effects of Earth Hour. And they have even made up figures about how much energy was supposedly saved in an hour, figures that seem to be some sort of fantasy projection rather than based on any evidence.

I find this despicable and ultimately anti-environment, not green at all. More environmentalists need to come out as anti-Earth Hour. Use it as talking point to get attention for real issues. Let people know those of us leaving our lights on are not all climate change skeptics. The response to Earth Hour has shown that the masses are interested in green issues and want to help. They deserve not to be hoodwinked by a false campaign started by hypocritical ad men. Let's take this interest and desire to help and put Earth Hour behind us and come up with something genuinely positive for people to participate in.