An hour's darkness won't save the world

Earth Hour was a misguided event

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

On March 29, millions participated in Earth Hour, an event that saw entire cities shrouded in darkness from 8-9 p.m. to show support for addressing climate change.

Earth Hour clearly wasn’t just for tree-huggers, but do these numbers reflect an international commitment or merely a feel-good trend?

On the eve of Earth Hour, lights and televisions throughout my residence were flicked off. Most people were aware of the reasoning, and many even cracked down on those sitting in brightly lit lounges with the tube on. I found myself in the minority, as I hid in my room with my laptop plugged in and my fluorescent light humming above.

Peer-pressured and guilt-ridden by about 8:30, I turned off the lights. This simple move filled me with the warm fuzzies. For a brief moment, I was a part of something big "" a statement of commitment, the beginning of a movement.

Or maybe not.

Call me pessimistic, but I’m betting Earth Hour won’t be the catalyst for change it bills itself as being. The event, launched by the World Wildlife Fund, was merely an easy way for people to express their concerns about global warming.

Earth Hour provided individuals, institutions, and cities worldwide with a communal sense of “making a difference.” It also made lazy people feel good for an entire hour. It is not surprising millions hopped on the non-polluting, emission-free bandwagon.

If the event was in fact a statement of global commitment to solving climate change, it begs the question: how committed are we? It’s easy to flick off the lights for an hour. It’s not so easy to change the way we live.

Many say Earth Hour sends a message to politicians that the international community wants to fight climate change. The event was certainly buzz-worthy, and future Al Gores will have photo-ops as they flick off their lights next March 29.

But one hour of darkness hasn’t convinced me " or many politicians " that people are willing to make sacrifices in the name of the environment. The shared excitement of Earth Hour was gone by morning, and everyone who had proudly flicked the switch the night before was back in business.

However, I may be proved wrong. Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era. We’ve made hybrid cars, energy-efficient light bulbs, and now millions proved they were capable of ending their reliance on electricity for a whopping 60 minutes.

If people are as devoted to saving our planet as Earth Hour implies, then real change is on the horizon. Some have suggested making Earth Hour a monthly occurrence, but why stop there? How about weekly? Hourly? Let’s just stop using electricity altogether, if that’s how committed we are.

Unfortunately, this poses a greater problem. Our abandoned and obsolete electrical devices will end up in landfills, creating an unsightly accumulation of waste in dumps across the globe. Sure, energy consumption will be nil, but the Earth will look like trash.

With this dire outcome in mind " and, more importantly, the fact that neither individuals nor politicians will allow it to occur " it is clear Earth Hour was a clever, but misguided, attempt to save the world one light switch at a time.

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