This year Laura and I chose to observe Earth Hour. If you don’t know, Earth Hour is a global event that encourages everyone to turn off all the lights for one hour to raise awareness of the perils of environmental destruction and excessive energy consumption. You can read more about it here.
There are a few reasons that I like Earth Hour. Awareness campaigns sometimes seem like a waste, like spending time and money convincing people to do something instead of just doing something. In the case of Earth Hour, I think the great value is getting people to spend a few minutes considering how they might spend their time if they didn’t have electricity. You might read a book by candlelight, you might do some arts or crafts, you might go for a walk outside, or you might even talk to your friends and family in person! The realization that we can drastically reduce our use of electricity by inconveniencing ourselves only slightly is an important step.
The other group of people who would benefit from the message of Earth Hour are the people who hadn’t yet heard about our environmental crisis. These people might hear about Earth Hour while at the water cooler and ask a few naive questions prompting them to go home and google “climate change”, forever changing the way they consume goods and services.
But the reason there is an environmental crisis is for two other kinds of people.
The first group are the people who know that there is an environmental crisis but are not willing to inconvenience themselves to deal with it. These people don’t like the colour of fluorescent light-bulbs or the smell of public transit. They drive SUVs to the gym to run on electronic treadmills in front of an flat-screen TV displaying nature scenes. They won’t buy recycled toilet paper because it’s not as soft or as white.
The other group of people that Earth Hour won’t touch is people who don’t believe there is an environmental crisis at all. In this country they are a vocal minority. These people would likely say that they can use all the electricity they want because humanity cannot effect the global climate.
The second group is clearly the more wrong of the two; however, I suspect they are a much smaller group and could be helped by an education in scientific literacy. The first group makes up the vast majority of people including me on a lot of days. What will help them? Guilt tripping? Ignorance is much easier to treat than selfishness and apocalyptic negligence.
And that’s the real reason that Earth Hour isn’t making a difference: because the people who know we’re screwed get to pat themselves on the back after an hour of not watching Netflicks and pretend they’re contributing to my childrens’ future before turning the lights back on, firing up the television, the computer, the oven, the blender, and every other gadget they own. I for one charged my laptop before the hour began so I could surf wirelessly in the dark.
The awareness campaign worked. Everybody knows and nobody’s doing anything. So where do we go from here?