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Can One Hour Save the Earth?

Earth hour originated in Australia and now has world wide support in countries as far afield as Morocco, South Korea and Kazakhstan. But is all this hype actually leading to a reduction in carbon emissions?

Submitted 5/11/2010 By littlehand Views 2581 Comments 0 Updated 5/25/2010

Photographer : Lang Thang @ flickr

What began as a local Sydney event in March 2007 has grown exponentially to become a global event in 2010, encompassing approximately 4000 cities across 126 countries. In short, Earth Hour has been an overwhelmingly successful campaign by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to raise awareness about climate change.

The concept is simple: turn off lights and other electrical appliances for one hour to show that you are serious about acting on climate change. This action is meant to symbolise taking a first step to leading a more environmentally aware and climate friendly lifestyle. But is this one hour just tokenistic or is it actually doing something productive?

During this hour, people will instantly turn to candlelight and will most probably burn cheaper paraffin candles. The problem with paraffin is that it’s made from crude oils and is full of hydrocarbons—when burnt it will also release carbon dioxide.

According to Luke Weston (a student at the University of Melbourne, Australia, majoring in Physics and Computer Engineering) for every candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.6 g of carbon dioxide”.

I’m quite sure people don’t light a million candles in their homes to give the same kind of light as electricity provides. Nevertheless, Earth Hour is not the carbon neutral hour people seem to think—paraffin candles still produce carbon dioxide emissions and this hour by candlelight does not send the best message about emissions.

However, according to the WWF in 2007 the results for Earth hour in Sydney alone showed 2.2 million homes and workplaces participated decreasing the energy usage by 10.2%; a decrease in 24.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking 48613 cars off the road.

This year’s statistics for Earth Hour 2010, provided by Energy Australia, showed that the Sydney CBD area electricity intake decreased by 6.3%, “the same amount of energy required to power almost 1.3 million energy efficient light bulbs for one hour”.

Keeping in mind that this is only Sydney, it is terrific to see so many participating in one city—just think of the whole world’s emissions reduced! But as the WWF states, this hour isn’t about reducing energy intake—it’s aim is to create an awareness, and that’s what makes Earth Hour so special. With major landmarks vanishing from the horizon, it is a very visible sign that people do want to do their bit for the environment and the message is spreading.

Even if that one hour does reduce the levels of power being generated on the grid, it is more than just a numbers game. Earth Hour is symbolic on a grand scale—all the more so because when you switch off your lights at home someone on the other side of the world could be doing the same action. In this way we can feel connected and become participants in a growing and increasingly powerful global community that wants to change.

Although sitting in darkness for one hour may not feel greatly significant, this simple gesture forces us to consider how to live more sustainably. Earth Hour may not directly fix climate change but it does encourage debate and motivates people to think, consider, plan and act for the benefit of the environment and our future.