Earth Hour, Lights Off

By Regina Marie Peralta

earth hour stock photo from pexels.com

Since 2008, on a Saturday in March, my family and I have sat around with the lights off. I remember sitting in the dark of our old house, looking at my flashlight-lit graduation picture and listening to the whirring of the electric fan. This was in celebration of Earth Hour, the annual event where people are called to switch off their lights for an hour on a Saturday in March in order to help save electricity and raise awareness for environmental issues.

According to the movement's website, Earth Hour is a non-profit organization started by WWF (World Wildlife Fund). It is based in Singapore and it aims to unite people towards the protection of the planet. The most popular project is The Lights Off Event or what people know as "Earth Hour", which started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia.

The celebration has become quite popular; in fact, some brands have come up with publicity materials, promos or events specific for the night of Earth Hour. Around the world, light painting events, carnival-like events featuring fire dancers, and the like also become a staple during Earth Hour.

While all these celebrations do well in the sense that they raise awareness and spark a sense of unity among those who care about the environment, I have read a number of articles and posts critiquing this one hour of darkness. According to Eric Novak, an environmentalist, Earth Hour was designed for symbolism, not actual conservationism.

He writes:

"While there is indeed a tangible decrease in energy consumption during Earth Hour, nobody is legitimately trying to suggest that this will have any sort of lasting calculable effect on reducing our emissions."

His friend at Ontario Power Generation shared that technology isn't capable of storing excess energy until needed, so the sudden switching off of lights causes a switching off and on of nuclear reactors as well as the need to use gas plants to supply the extra energy needed. While it is true that Earth Hour is more about the symbolism than about reducing wasteful energy consumption, shouldn't it aim to do both, or at least not be something that increases carbon emissions?

This view is supported by Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School. He adds that candles lit during the celebration are made from fossil fuels, and cause more carbon dioxide emission. He also said that electricity was a gift to humanity and that Earth Hour was an elitist type of celebration; it would do better for people to focus on research and development instead of just sitting around eating snacks by candlelight. Using compact fluorescent lights, candles made of beeswax or soy, and investing in renewable energy, and would be better, according to David J. Unger of The Christian Science Monitor.

But perhaps the most powerful critique of Earth Hour is the fact that for this one hour (and for some people, this hour alone), people act like they care about nature, about climate change, carbon footprint et cetera.

Unbeknownst to many (including myself up until now), Earthhour.org aims to go 'beyond the hour' by pushing for legislation changes and raising funds. But it is the specific “Lights Off” campaign that has generated a following and receives the most publicity. Then when the lights come back on, people are back to wasting electricity, throwing candy wrappers on the street, using plastic straws with drinks, and not feeling the least bite of conscience towards patronizing companies that are chopping down trees and dumping chemicals into oceans, or rendering mountains bald in order to mine them –all without any thought about how to remedy the destruction they cause.

This problem, in my opinion, is rooted in four causes: a lack of willpower to invest and implement laws continuously, the lack of education on environmental issues and what one can do, the lack of funds for those who do want to invest but find ‘going green’ expensive, and the lack of discipline for everyone involved as shown by continued littering on streets and bodies of water, the use of plastic, and so on.

People are generally forgetful when it comes to issues like the environment. Another storm, some talk about how it's climate change, that we shouldn’t build on mountains, that we should invest in renewable energy and that we shouldn’t litter because it causes floods--and then it's back to old behavior. While there are some people who try in their own little ways to work towards more environment-friendly lifestyles and practices (like segregating, recycling/bringing recyclables to junk shops), the lack of support from institutions like the government makes it hard.

For instance, just two weeks ago, a professor of mine made an observation about how in UP it is quite hard to find a trash can unless you are in a building. This is probably why people resort to throwing their plastic cups and food containers everywhere because heck, isn’t it easier to throw your trash on the ground than hold on to it while looking for the nearest trash bin?

The government as well as private companies should do more in order to promote efficient use of resources, as well as proper waste management. It shouldn’t stop with garbage trucks labeled so that they appear to be collecting segregated trash (I have yet to see if the trash still remains segregated at the end of the garbage-collecting trip). But for now, as I see it, a lot still has to be done in order to make being “eco-friendly” the status quo --- as the norm.

 ‘Green’, organic items made from safe and just extraction (--- and labor) are not mainstream, making this lifestyle expensive as well as inconvenient, and inaccessible to the masses. Why would a family of the lowest socio-economic class bother investing in solar panels, LED lights, or water-efficient plumbing if they can’t even afford to eat decent meals? This was another critique of Earth Hour: the mentality is for those who are middle class or rich, who actually have electricity and a lot of gadgets. There is nothing about the project that is specifically geared towards uplifting the plight of the poor and empowering them to help save the environment—something from which they can benefit as well.

On a positive note, there are institutions that are working towards sustainable development, like the Philippine Council on Sustainable Development. As a student in an NSTP program handled by the Heritage Conservation Society-Youth, I also got to experience cleaning an estuary or estero, which is a body of water that leads towards a river. This shows that this heritage does not apply only to buildings and monuments but to the environmental heritage as well.

On a smaller scale, I have noticed as well that quite a few jeeps now have trash cans inside. This is good because it discourages people from sticking their hands out of vehicles and tossing their trash onto the high way. I also notice more segregation trashcan sets, at least in areas I frequent; hopefully the trash is segregated not only at the sites where they are first collected but further on in the waste management process.

On the other hand, perhaps an issue I have with projects like tree-planting and estuary clean-ups, though, is what becomes of the place in the long run. Are the trees taken care of after they are planted so that they grow up to provide fruit, shade, and shelter for animals? Are the residents educated in order to protect the cleanliness of the bodies of water around which they live?

There should be a continuation of efforts; the care for the trees, animals, bodies of water, and other resources shouldn’t end with sharing photos or signing a petition; nor should it end with a donation or a photo-op. It should be “going beyond the hour” as Earth Hour says.


Sources:

Earth Hour Events: Beyond Switching the Lights Off. (2010, March 24). Spot.ph. Retrieved from http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/39719/earth-hour-events-beyond-switching-the-lights-off?ref=tags

Lomborg, Bjorn. (2013, March 17). Earth Hour is a Colossal Waste of Time—and Energy. Slate.com. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/project_syndicate/2013/03/earth_hour_is_all_wrong_we_need_more_electricity_not_less.html

Novak, Eric. (2014, March 28). Earth Hour—Symbolism vs. Pragmatism. Envirodad.com. Retrieved from http://envirodad.com/earth-hour-symbolism-versus-pragmatism/

Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.earthhour.org/philippines

Unger, David. (2013, March 23). Earth Hour 2013: Does it Really Save Energy? The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/0323/Earth-Hour-2013-Does-it-really-save-energy

WWF-Philippines. Retrieved from http://wwf.org.ph/

Zarzuela, Dyan. (2010, March 26). 10 Things to do in the Dark. Spot.ph. Retrieved from http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/40008/10-things-to-do-in-the-dark-during-earth-hour?page=2

Zarzuela, Dyan. (2011, March 23). 10 Amazing Earth Hour Celebrations Around the World. Spot.ph. Retrieved from http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/47923/10-earth-hour-celebrations-in-2010?page=3

Zarzuela, Dyan. (2014, March 27). 10 More Fun Things to do in the Dark. Spot.ph. Retrieved from http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/55922/10-more-fun-things-to-do-in-the-dark?page=2