Andreas Späth

Earth Hour se ma se...

2010-03-31 07:25

Cape Town "bergies" have a way with words. Not only are they famously colourful in their use of vocabulary, they also have an uncanny knack for hitting nails on their heads, vociferously expressing what many others think, but wouldn't dream of saying in public.

Late one evening last week I came across a couple having a robust if rather raucous debate under a lamp post carrying a poster encouraging Captonians to "Flip the Switch for Earth Hour". While their argument, laced with expletives and generously lubricated by alcohol, was not always entirely cogent, the gist of it was obvious. First of all, this whole global warming thing was none of their doing and secondly, they didn't even have a switch they could flip, let alone a roof to live under.

The little scene in the lamplight made me think. Not just about the idea of environmental justice that lies at the heart of this particularly public debate, but also about Earth Hour and its efficacy. While I would never want to discourage anyone from saving electricity, I do have a number of issues with Earth Hour that are worth fleshing out. Think of them as constructive criticisms rather than outright condemnations:

• To me, Earth Hour feels way too much like a greeting card holiday. Like Valentine's Day. One day of the year when we're commercially encouraged to express our feelings to our loved ones. What about the remaining 364 days of the year? I tend to cynically ignore Valentine's Day and try to make a conscious effort to be kind and loving on all the other days.

• Earth Hour gives climate criminals the opportunity to greenwash their image while continuing their environmentally dubious practices. Why should turning off the lights in your corporate office tower for an hour buy you eco-creds if it's lit up like a Christmas tree for the rest of the time? We don't hand out good-citizenry awards to criminals who refrain from mugging people for a dedicated hour once a year, do we!? I can find little enthusiasm for those "before" and "during" pictures of normally well-lit international landmarks, from Table Mountain to the Eiffel Tower, that go dim during Earth Hour. They only serve to graphically highlight how wasteful we are when we operate in "business as usual" mode.

• The emphasis on personal actions by private individuals - flipping the switch at home for an hour - tends to encourage us to ignore the bigger systemic problems that are central to the crisis. Yes, using energy-saving light bulbs and recycling our waste can make a difference, but on their own they are not enough to fix global climate change or any of our other environmental problems. We need major changes in the way we run our entire society, from the manner we generate electricity and get from A to Z to the way we grow our food. All of that requires fundamental changes not just in how we behave at home, but much more importantly in the way our governments and industries operate every day.

• "But it's better than doing nothing!" I hear you complain. That's true. But easy, once-a-year, feel-good activities can also make people complacent for the rest of the time, thinking that they've contributed their share, when so much still remains to be done.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not my intention to dishearten or discourage those of you who participated in Earth Hour. Far from it: give yourselves a deserved pat on the back. But if you are truly concerned about the state of our planet and the kind of world we are leaving for our children's children to inherit, it can't be the only thing you do! Because if one hour out of 8 760 hours a year - a lousy 0.01%! - is all we're willing to sacrifice in the fight against climate change we have already lost the battle, no matter how many of us participate or how good it makes us feel. Make every hour an Earth Hour!

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Read more on:    earth hour  |  climate change

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