I’ve read a lot of fairly negative commentary about Earth Hour, the ‘lights off’ event which is occurring from 8pm tonight. I can understand the cynicism, but I’m always loath to publicly bag anything which might move attitudes and behaviours even a small way in a positive direction, as long as people don’t overstate its impact.
It doesn’t do much in terms of reducing emissions in itself, but no one-off action does. If it gets more people recognising that climate change is a serious problem and increases their commitment to do more in an ongoing way, then it’s not a bad thing. It certainly seems to have grabbed a lot of attention – I suppose it is a concept which is very easy to market and understand. (the Earth Hour Facebook page has 814 466 people ‘attending’ the event, a figure which increased by over 1000 in the fifteen minutes it took me to type this post)
Of course, if all people do is turn their lights off for an hour and light some candles instead and then use that to feel like they’ve done all they need to to help save the planet, then it would be a negative, but I think you can say that about almost anything.
Still, it’s hard not to feel that some of the actions being done by government bodies and corporations are fairly hollow. I’ve seen various organisations and places (including Parliament House in Canberra) say they will be turning off all non-essential lighting between 8 and 9pm – which is better than not doing it, but does make one wonder why non-essential lighting would normally be on anyway, especially on a Saturday night.
I hope environment groups will push concepts like this further and encourage people to do more things that are not quite so easy or which would have a larger ongoing impact. Things like leaving your car at home for a day (or a week), or going vegan or vegetarian for a day (or a week).
I’ve complained for years that few environment groups highlight the significant greenhouse (and other environmental) benefits from cutting back on meat and dairy products, presumably because such a message wouldn’t be as popular or easily received. But if everyone just went without meat and dairy products for a day – or ideally pledged to halve their overall ongoing consumption, it would have a much larger and more immediate impact than turning off more of our lights more often.
Changing to a more greenhouse friendly diet is one of the easiest things people can do to make an immediate, direct and meaningful impact on greenhouse emissions. Unlike many other things we will need to do to reduce emissions, changing our diet in this way saves money, is often healthier and has no overall negative economic impact. Despite this, it is still not mentioned very often in amongst the various things we are urged to do to reduce our greenhouse impact. For instance, the Earth Hour website gives a range of examples of changes you can make to have an ongoing impact, but doesn’t mention changing your diet, even though it is one thing virtually everybody can do and has a far greater impact than many of the options provided.