Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Don't Believe in Earth Hour

Last night for Earth Hour I did nothing.

The event began in 2007 in Australia and now spans the globe, urging everyone to turn off the lights for one hour in an effort to get people thinking about energy conservation. If it had the whiff of a symbolic gesture in 2007 it certainly reeks of it now.

The Toronto Star published a story lamenting that Toronto only saw 5 per cent power drop for Earth Hour, noting that people gathering in Yonge-Dundas Square were disappointed to see retail stores in the area still brightly lit. Have these same people been to Yonge-Dundas Square any other hour of the year? You can practically read after dark by the light of the jumbotrons. Flying in to Toronto Island at night, the square looks like the dance floor to some wild urban nightclub--one that never closes.

Once for Earth Hour I went to a bar in downtown Vancouver. The entire place was dark and we drank beer by candlelight. Despite being a surprisingly romantic moment in what is normally a semi-dingy sports bar, it seemed nothing beyond that. As soon as the hour ended, the bartender flipped a switched and on zapped six giant plasma screen TVs all playing the same thing just from slightly different angles so you could practically be lying on your back in the corner of the bar and still manage to see the game.

Then there is everyone deciding what Twitter hashtag to use to tweet their Earth Hour experiences, which just shows how completely divorced we have become from how much electricity all our devices truly use. If it's not plugged in we're not really using power, right? Or is it just OK because it is power borrowed from another hour? All our Earth Hour tweets drain the power on our iPhones or Blackberrys, which we will inevitably be recharging later that night at home. You can't participate in Earth Hour and tweet it, too.

And Skype got in on Earth Hour by using twitter to advertise their group video calling feature, so you can share that great Earth Hour moment with your friends and family all around the world. Except that you need your computer to do it. And your internet plugged in. Oh, well.

I would say Earth Hour has been hi-jacked by companies and people who want to show they are environmentally friendly by doing something once a year, but then I never thought it was anything more than that in the beginning. I know there are those that make the argument that even though it is obviously a symbolic gesture, it gets people to think about their energy use the rest of the year. Maybe it does. But my suspicion is that the people most affected and legitimately interested in Earth Hour are those that were already thinking about their environmental impact.

The question is: does Earth Hour do anything to reach those that don't normally care and don't do anything to reduce their energy consumption? Unfortunately, I think it gives people, and especially businesses and corporations, a chance to participate in a big global greenwashing event, then go back to their regularly scheduled programming.

It's easy to think about our energy use one hour a year. The problem is all those other hours.

photo taken from the top of the CN Tower

1 comment:

  1. It's a nice sentiment, I suppose, but I can't see it having much significance beyond that. Almost like sending the Earth an insincere get well card once a year. "Sorry for messing you up so bad, hope you feel better soon." -_-