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.