In defense of Earth Hour

Now that Earth Hour 2011 is behind us, it’s not a surprise to hear that Toronto didn’t do “as well” as in previous years. Here’s an article in BlogTO stating that the city only reduced its energy consumption by 5 percent this year. Compare it to 10% in 2010 and 15% in 2009. I can see a trend in that, and it’s a little upsetting. But what’s more upsetting is the number of naysayers that came out and laughed at the very idea of Earth Hour – just read the comments for the article. Not a friendly bunch. I’d say a rather cynical bunch.

But this is where I need to step in to defend the concept of Earth Hour. It’s an awareness campaign, just like Movember (which is one I participate in), or numerous other campaigns and causes. There’s a whole list of them, with colourful ribbons, smartly abbreviated names, and all that marketing stuff. But if you think that those ribbons save lives, you’re wrong. It’s what these ribbons make you think, or compel you to do – that may, indirectly, eventually, possibly save a life. That’s awareness. No direct cause, no call to action. Passive encouragement is more like it.

Simply put, if you are able to turn off all (or most) lights in the house on a Saturday night, in early spring (when you still need light, but don’t necessarily need heat) – then perhaps it will be STEP ONE for you. If you can do that, without whining, or compensating an hour later by turning EVERYTHING back on, you’ve participated in the campaign. But you’re not aware yet. If, however,  you decide that indeed, some of these lights in your house don’t need to be turned on, and you make it a habit to only keep minimal lighting on – you are aware. That is all. The point of Earth Hour is just that – make you consider the possibilities. What you choose to do with them – is your own call. What I like about the campaign, is that this year they added ‘go beyond the hour’ element to it – where people commit to various other energy-saving ideas. I guess it can be compared to a massive, planet-wide ‘look what I can do’ exercise, but what if after reading some of these ideas, you’ll sign up as well? Take a look at who’s already on that list. I’d say this new element might take Earth Hour to a whole new level, in terms of reach and resonance. But back to Toronto EH 2011.

The article in BlogTO mentions a reduction of 5% in energy consumption this year. You think it’s insignificant? Let me put it in perspective. What if you could, for an hour, drop 5% of your holiday weight? What if,  your salary was temporarily increased by 5%, for absolutely no reason? What if your credit card rate was reduced by 5%? You wouldn’t feel the difference, on a personal level? You wouldn’t try to strive for that? I would – especially with that extra weight thing – and I’m sure you’re crunching the numbers on that one.

Yes, the naysayers can make an easy argument that it’s an inconvenience, and it’s too dark, and there’s nothing to do, and my feet hurt. Fine, if it’s an inconvenience, don’t do it. But if you’re compelled to participate, why not turn off a few lights on April 26? Or on May 26? Or, instead of literally lifting a finger (on the light switches in a couple of rooms), you think bigger and winterize your home? Plant a tree (it’s not just an Earth Day gimmick, some of us plant trees in different months, and even, gasp, multiple times a year). Why not kick that SUV back to the car dealer lot where it belongs, and try, just try to fit your family of 2.7 into a sedan? Maybe install some solar panels – wait, I’m going too far, even I know it’s cost-prohibitive. In any case, there are other ways you can put a dent in your footprint, and if you already are eco-conscious, wonderful – do it for your next-door neighboor. Yes, the one who has a snowblower, whose Xmas lights are still on, and a TV on in every room. And don’t get me started on how often he mows the lawn with that mini tractor. We all have that neighboor.

The question is, what does the concept of Earth Hour compel YOU to do? And the follow-up – are you doing it? If so, you are aware, the campaign is successful. Do it again next year, maybe your neighboor will follow suit. Or try to go beyond the hour in your local community. The thing about setting an example is you gotta be sincere. And as for the other argument – the corporations can undo all that miniscule efforts we’re trying individually – well, that’s what our local MPPs are for, and those things we call elections. Getting a big company to be eco-friendly is more difficult, and you need a community, local government, and maybe even some laws or boycotts. But it’s not impossible. It just takes a little more planning and effort.

As for turning off a few lights – symbolically – just for an hour – it’s an easy step. But it’s a step towards establishing a good habit, and setting a great example. Even at 5%, I think, we’re making a point. Whether this point sticks, and our consumption (and footprint) really starts diminishing over time – that’s the goal. That’s the awareness.

Let me finish off with a local, Toronto angle. Yes, you can argue that Rob Ford’s team didn’t push EH initiative hard enough. But I do know that ’20-Minute Make-over’ is coming up, and it looks like Mayor Miller started a good tradition – which Rob Ford seems to be continuing. Here’s the link, see you with a garbage bag, on a street corner, April 15th. There is also ‘Community Clean-up’ day on April 16th – were you aware of it? Don’t forget to register. And don’t be such a naysayer.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Jross

    Nicely said. The cynicism had been getting me down; I’d heard directly that “no one cares.” glad that’s not true!

  2. Dmitry Beniaminov

    there is another way to look at the declining stats. Perhaps Torontonians are already pretty energy-savvy, so the drop in consumption during EH is smaller than the hour before, or hour after. Again, it’s about the long-term habit and behaviour change, rather than that one Saturday evening.

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