I’m Turning On My Lights For Earth Hour

by joanabagano

On a certain March evening, NGOs and establishments would call on everyone to join them in turning off their lights for an hour. During the event, these organizers would distribute candles. A lot of them. These candles would be lighted for a time or until they all burn out. And then a big concert complete with your firework, sounds, booze and food would cap off the night.

Paraffin wax, from which candles are made, emits more CO2 when burnt than incandescent light bulbs switched on. Also, an article on Slate that has been making the rounds on the internet explains how the events organized before and after Earth Hour actually increase carbon consumption.

From among the crowd we would hear a resounding question, “But that’s not the point. Isn’t Earth Hour for awareness?”

Oh yes, it is. The organizers say that it isn’t for the reduction of carbon emissions but for people to be more aware. Aware of what? That global warming is well under way and that we need to conserve our resources? I think my nephew in 4th Grade knows that.

This same awareness argument is used to defend the failure of Rio+20. The costs of that conference have obviously outweighed the benefits (a trip to Brazil and a chance to take a picture with someone popular, I guess?). To summarize what happened during the Rio+20: “Global leaders reaching the same consensus of sustainable development over and over again and always stopping at that dead end of non-action.”

Earth Hour gives a false sense of awareness and participation. Most of the people who join the symbolic switching off feel as if they’re accomplishing something and when the hour ends, go back to their routine lives of consumption.

And then there’s the “symbol” argument. They say that Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture for the planet. What does it symbolize? On the surface, we can deduce it to mean reduced and “wise” consumption. Going deeper, I believe it’s a symbol of backwardness. Switching off the lights makes electricity look evil when in fact and in history, it has done us so much favor. The simple habit of being able to read not just under the sunlight is one of the benefits of artificial lighting.

Let us the raise the level of discourse on the environment. Let us go beyond waste segregation, avoiding plastic and limiting carbon emissions. These are well-motivated acts and we can keep on doing them as ordinary citizens. However, as long as the prevailing politics on the environment continues, it’s a sluggish, if not possible, move forward.

Here are a few quotes from Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s “Break Through: Why We Can’t Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists”:

“For any politics to succeed, it must swim with, not against, the currents of changing social values.”

“The governments and the people of China and India are increasingly concerned about global warming, to be sure, but they are far more motivated by economic development, and to the extent that the battle against global warming is fought in terms of ecological limits rather than economic possibility, there’s little doubt which path these countries will take.”

“There is simply no way we can achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without creating breakthrough technologies that do not pollute.”

“But environmentalism has also saddled us with the albatross we call the politics of limits, which seeks to constrain human ambition, aspiration, and power rather than unleash and direct them.”

“Today, we must choose between a politics of limits and a politics of possibility; a focus on investment and assets and a focus on regulation and deficits; and a discourse of affluence and  a discourse of insecurity. And, most of all, we must choose between a resentful narrative of tragedy and a grateful narrative of overcoming.”

Call me a party pooper because as of this year, Earth Hour is definitely just a party. Can we then raise awareness on why it’s all wrong and why we need to look for a better campaign?