Why Earth Hour Still Matters

Earth Hour in Abu Dhabi UAEMarch 23 at 8:30 PM marks Earth Hour. Will you switch off?

Writing for Slate magazine, Bjorn Lomborg argues against what he believes to be the futility of Earth Hour. But Mr. Lomborg’s inability to see the value in such collective environmental efforts makes a compelling case for why we need them. As I pointed out here in Green Prophet, modern electric lights are thousands of times more efficient than ancient candles. Mr. Lomborg is also correct that today’s centralized coal power plants are unable to efficiently cope with a short-lived drop in demand. But this points to a failure our energy infrastructure, not in the Earth Hour concept. So, what is the true value of Earth Hour?

Earth Hour, a time when we switch off our lights together for one hour, won’t solve the world’s energy problems any more than Lent and Ramadan will eliminate world hunger and thirst. But before anyone criticizes the value of this largely symbolic effort, consider the fact that we are living in a world of symbols where paper currencies hide true environmental costs. Our great-grandparents endured the smell of kerosene, soot-stained ceilings and coal-dust inside of their homes.

But modern technology conceals our generation’s environmental impacts in faraway smokestacks, pit mines and landfills where we can’t see them. It traps us in a comfortable cocoon of soundproofed SUVs, bottled water and air conditioning. It shields us  from both the positive and negative impacts of our actions.

The glare of our glorified technology also blinds us to the light of our universe and to the plight of earth’s three billion poor. In our fictional world, the cost of shipping food thousands of miles is negligible and the cost of repairing a product always exceeds its cost of manufacture. In this pretend world, an individual has no impact on earth’s environment.

We have learned a toxic combination of indifference and helplessness. We also live a fiction that technology can solve a problem that has its roots in human nature.

Earth Hour helps us to see through this social hallucination and understand that, though technology is a great comfort to the self-absorbed masses, it is not all there is to being human.

This temporary interruption of our technological lives helps us to connect with one another and see that through community we can amplify our positive impacts on this fragile earth.So join us in turning off your lights at 8:30 P.M. local time on Saturday March 23.

Enjoy the stars, moon, Jupiter and comet Panstarrs in the western sky. Be thankful that these haven’t been turned into pay-per-view commercial products. If you notice that even one neighbor has followed your example, thank them and understand that your individual actions, no matter how small, can make a positive difference.

For as Margarete Mead put it, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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Photo of Earth Hour celebration in Abu Dhabi and earth hour video courtesy of EarthHour.org.

About Brian Nitz

Brian remembers when a single tear dredged up a nation's guilt. The tear belonged to an Italian-American actor known as Iron-Eyes Cody, the guilt was displaced from centuries of Native American mistreatment and redirected into a new environmental awareness. A 10-year-old Brian wondered, 'What are they... No, what are we doing to this country?' From a family of engineers, farmers and tinkerers Brian's father was a physics teacher. He remembers the day his father drove up to watch a coal power plant's new scrubbers turn smoke from dirty grey-back to steamy white. Surely technology would solve every problem. But then he noticed that breathing was difficult when the wind blew a certain way. While sailing, he often saw a yellow-brown line on the horizon. The stars were beginning to disappear. Gas mileage peaked when Reagan was still president. Solar panels installed in the 1970s were torn from roofs as they were no longer cost-effective to maintain. Racism, public policy and low oil prices transformed suburban life and cities began to sprawl out and absorb farmland. Brian only began to understand the root causes of "doughnut cities" when he moved to Ireland in 2001 and watched history repeat itself. Brian doesn't think environmentalism is 'rocket science', but understanding how to apply it within a society requires wisdom and education. In his travels through Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, Brian has learned that great ideas come from everywhere and that sharing mistakes is just as important as sharing ideas.

2 thoughts on “Why Earth Hour Still Matters

  1. stephanie

    Earth Hour was a very special moment here in Vancouver since the city has been named the Earth Hour capital for 2013. It’s a certain satisfaction for all our efforts made in various areas described in more detail in the so-called Greenest City 2020 Action Plan whose aim is to eliminate the negative impact that our actions often have on the environment. The project contains many progressive ideas and proposals which, if fully supported and put into practice, may produce the desired effect even in the short term. I’m so glad to be one of the active participants of that project and I definitely subscribe to the theory that Earth Hour is a great idea. 🙂

  2. JTR

    Well said Brian and I agree 100%. But human survival will be decided by peacefully reducing the human population with family planning education and safely recycling 100% of all human-generated waste materials everywhere. If not, ecocide and extinction become inevitable on this slowly shrinking planet.


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