Cometh the hour

I wasn’t sure whether to post on this topic. There’s so much to it, and so much scope for overly pious, and for ranting on about things I don’t fully understand, I thought I might just let it pass.

Then I saw this.


(I decided to leave it unaccredited, but I’m going to DM a link to this post to the tweeter in question, and if he cares to comment he’ll be free to do so.)

I’m sure it’s just one of a multitude tweets condemning Earth Hour as an ineffectual gesture by a vocal minority of self-congratulatory do-gooders, many of whom are among the worst offenders in the whole CO2 stakes.

I certainly don’t mean to single the author of this one out, but unfortunately he’s the guy who turned up in my Twitter stream and riled me to the point of putting pen to paper.

(It didn’t help that he followed this up by complaining that “hollow gestures by the mavens confuse the masses. I think the whole thing is damaging.”  Confuse the masses?  Who the hell are you?  Pontius Fucking Pilate?)


I suspect, though I may be wrong, that the good people of Edmonton (and the surrounding area) – the kind of people who spend a Saturday afternoon trawling around IKEA in search of cheap electrical appliances they don’t really need – probably fall pretty precisely under many people’s definition of ‘the masses’.

Well, while the masses were out shopping this afternoon they who would have done pretty well to avoid the announcement coming across the tannoy at thirty minute intervals to the effect that IKEA would be observing Earth Hour, and that so should they.

There wasn’t anything especially confusing about the message, at least not for those among us with ears and a brain, who numbered very much in the majority.  ‘Show your commitment to fighting climate change.  Turn off your lights for an hour this evening.’  It’s not rocket science.

And yes, sadly, that’s probably as much as most of us have ever done.  Do we really believe that this will even scratch the surface of the issue, in terms of pure energy-saving?  Of course not.

It is a symbolic act, by which we show our recognition of the fact that man-made climate change is a reality, with the potential to unite our species, and the power to decimate it.

It gives us an opportunity to sit for an hour, by candle-light, reflecting on the things we otherwise take for granted, pondering a world in which they were not so abundant, and wishing we’d had the presence of mind to sneak the bloody kettle on before the clock struck half eight.


More than once today I’ve encountered the insinuation that Earth Hour is the exclusive domain of some web-literate elite who are simply paying lip service to the issue, whilst continuing to be amongst the worst offenders on CO2 usage, making profligate use of technology in order to share the many tedious details of our largely unremarkable lives.

This, if you’ll forgive my bluntness, is fucking ignorant.  Here we have a global communication network, off the back of which the infinite seeds of one simple idea can be borne to all four corners of the world in minutes, seconds even.  We have a mouthpiece for the grass-roots, a medium for the groundswell, powered by observation and opinion every bit as much as electricity.

With so many people seeming to revert instaneously from denial to resignation, we have to engender a climate in which the naysayers are the exception, rather than the rule.

In short, we have to turn this ship around.  And, realising that this is beyond the capabilities of our political leadership, we have to do it for ourselves.

In the Internet, we have the potential for a new kind of leadership, articulated as an idea.  Earth Hour is just that – an idea. In giving it our support, we’re not aligning ourselves with left or right, or pledging our allegiance to a wider political platform.  We don’t have to wear the badge, or download the fact pack.

All we have to do is switch off some lights, and light a few candles.  And, in doing so, take the time to think about what else we’re ready to do, to try and make a difference.

That moment of introspection, of self-recrimination, and whatever greater environmental conscientiousness it precipitates, that’s the essence of Earth Hour.  Whether we experience it as individuals, or realise it amongst ourselves, or embrace it as a species, it has value.

And if some of us continue to take the easy option, to opt out, to say “little old me, what difference can I make.”  Well, if that’s how you feel, so alone in the world, so isolated and insoluble, perhaps you’re right.  Little old you.

  • “There wasn’t anything especially confusing about the message”

    Search for “Earth hour” and “candles” on twitter. Actually, I’ll save you the hassle:

    Now tell me there’s nothing confusing about the message. Piousness 1: Ecology 0.

    (Otherwise, a good post. And yes, it was me who said that and there’s a lot more where that comes from; just ask me for my views about electric cars)

  • Dan

    There’s a very interesting post about this here – – with some interesting comments.

    The author asserts that candles are actually far less energy efficient than light bulbs, and give off just as much – if not more – CO2. He uses some fairly hefty maths to reinforce the point, and seems fairly pleased with how well this demonstrates how clever he is, and how silly the rest of us are.

    The basic logic this chap uses seems to be grounded in the assumption that people will burn a sufficient number of candles to generate an equivalent amount of light (or ‘lumens’) to whatever light bulbs they would normally have switched on. I’m not sure that would have been the case last night.

    Also, he regards the heat generated by a candle as wasted energy. For my money, a better definition of waste would be the small amounts of aluminium, tungsten, nickel-ion, vitrine and glass you throw away every time you discard a used light bulb. Not to mention the mercury vapor, electronics, plastic, glass, aluminium and copper in a fluocompact light.

    Interestingly, in our case, our house has over FIFTY bulbs across the two floors, even before you figure in lamps and such. We didn’t ask for it that way, and, even apart from its profligate wastefulness, we’re utterly fed up with swapping the bulbs in and out. Yesterday was a good opportunity for Emma and I to discuss this, and to agree on the steps we’re taking to remedy it.

    I can certainly guarantee that, even with less than half of those bulbs switched on, the two candles we burnt during Earth Hour would have represented a significant reduction in C02 emissions and waste. I imagine that this is probably true in the vast majority of instances, where several lights and other electrical appliances were replaced by a small number of candles.

    Whatever the case, I still maintain that the purpose of Earth Hour isn’t to effect a practical reduction in CO2 emissions – it is to show a preparedness on the part of large numbers of people to vote with their feet where the issue of climate change is concerned.

    Putting the issue more firmly on the agenda can only strengthen the mandate of the scientists and mathematicians when it comes to explaining exactly what practical improvements we can be making in our day-to-day lives.

  • It’s not about candles versus lights (though I know which I’d rather have, given all the fumes candles emit).

    The problem for me with Earth Hour is that it trivializes the magnitude of the issue, in the same way many of these events do. Just like Live Aid, it ends with everyone patting themselves on the back for a job well done and no one with influence and wealth having suffered one bit.

    I wonder what was the typical response post-EarthHour;

    a) “That was fun. I like playing in the dark with my family. I feel really great about myself now.”

    b) “It’s finally clear to me. I’m going to give up imported food; make my own clothes; grow my own food; get rid of my car; stop traveling; stop eating meat; stop using air conditioning and refrigeration; get rid of my computers; share a house with several other families…”

    Of course, I don’t need to wonder; twitter shows it was primarily a:

    Just like electric cars and many other “green” initiatives, it’s all smoke and mirrors to enable us to bury our heads in the sand to whatever extent it takes to ensure our extremely wasteful and unsustainable lifestyles are maintained for as long as possible.

  • Dan

    Good to know that it’s not about candles. Because, well, you did kind of give the impression that you thought it was about candles. That bit where you said that Earth Hour’s message was confusing, that it did more harm than good, and used the example of candles as the sole basis for that assertion.

    I guess the candles thing must have been symbolic, right? Of the many pernicious ways in which we hair-brained masses cultivate this misguided sense that by turning our lights off for an hour we’ve done our bit to address the issue of climate change, and are free to return to the oblivion to which our second-rate intellects consign us.

    For my part, if I follow that link I see a lot of people responding positively to what happened yesterday. I don’t believe, as you do, that most of them are now simply lying around in a puddle of their own egoistic self-congratulation. I don’t presume to know the way in which each of them is responding. But I do believe that the net effect of Earth Hour will have been to further increase the momentum of the green movement, and to heighten our collective awareness of the many other ways in which we can have a positive impact, several of which you rightly identify.

    Sounds like the best we can hope for is to agree to disagree, and to let anybody else reading this post form their own opinion about which of us has our head in the sand. I certainly appreciate the debate, and wholeheartedly believe that this IS an issue worth falling out over.

    For my part, this is my last comment on this particular thread, so feel free to have the last word. Believe it or not, I have a thumping great vegetable patch to go turn over, ahead of a busy summer.

  • Being someone who is concerned about the impact of climate change both in my lifetime and that of my children and with luck grandchildren I think there is merit in anything which raises some awareness of the fundamental issue, that being that we are an inherently wasteful society.

    I have always considered myself to be very aware of ‘green’ issues, even studying the subject at university, however it shames me to say that when it comes to putting it in to practise I have historically been half hearted in my efforts.

    It has taken my hubbys investigation into options that enable us to be more efficient that have meant we have made some marked inmprovements in our day to day. Simple things like becoming a one car family (and an electric one at that), having all our sockets be on controls which allow us to turn everything off with a remote, or sense that an item is not in use and turn it off and avoid the standby drain – for PC’s, TV, sound systems, mobile phone chargers and the like, we have green bulbs and are vigilent in keeping all unecessary lights off. Taps are not left to drip or run during brushing, we are a shower rather than a bath household, and we have those packs in our toilets which reduce the flush volume. We use eco products for cleaning, washing drys in the airing room or on the line, we recycle and compost to reduce our waste, reuse bags and buy local produce with reduced or eco packaging where we can. Oh, and we fly alot less than we used to and offset when we do.

    Despite these actions it seems like it is not enough and we are by no means patting ourselves on the back, we are just trying to do what we can and will continue to do so.

    What I think Earth Hour does is serve as a reminder that it takes everyone to do all the little things to make a difference and demonstrates that there is a desire from people to make a difference.

    It is widely understood that even if everyone did all that they can within their households there are actions that need to be taken by governments and energy companies and car manufacturers and airlines to really have the necessary impact.

    For me, Earth hour just reinforces a message to people that this is everyones problem. It reminds of our responsibility if we are getting complacent. It is a gesture.