Yes, it’s that time again. The WWF hope you can switch off your lights for the sixth annual Earth Hour tonight. Last year 5,251 cities across 135 countries took part, reaching 1.8 billion people.
I must confess that I am more cynical about Earth Hour than I was at this time last year (it’s the “green tokenism,” as Boyd Cohen, co-author of Climate Capitalism and teacher of sustainable entrepreneurship at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, calls it), so heaven help me this time next year. Of course it’s very easy to feel good about something that requires little effort and no ongoing commitment. You’ve already ditched plastic shopping bags and all your light bulbs are energy-saving ones, even though they take ages to brighten up and are ruining your eyesight. You never leave your mobile phone charger plugged in and compost even your toenails. Some of you, I know, even have bicycles and I’m proud of you for using them, not just having them. Tell me, is it really worth plunging your home into darkness for one hour in an attempt to further prove that you care about the environment? And to whom?
Indeed, an hour helping to clean the coastline would be better spent. As would five minutes at the supermarket spent looking at food labels, or walking the kids to school occasionally instead of taking them in the car all the time. I’m loath to join the thronging, sneering mass of people that think this exercise is a futile, feel-good display in self-indulgence, and not because I’m too idle to spend an hour in relative discomfort or in morbid contemplation. I’m not insulted by the suggestion that I ought to participate in yet another gesture of symbolic solidarity (which I’m not doing this year, as you can see, because I’m writing this, which I should hope counts for more anyway). I’m just a bit disheartened because, for all the well-meaning rhetoric and populist vows to change habits, and for all my humble efforts to make a tiny difference, too many people will still insist on heating their gardens on cold summer nights and will fly around the world on any given day for no good reason other than they want to and are able to.
It’s why I’m pleased to see that the nice WWF people are making more of their Go Beyond the Hour message this year, realising, thankfully, that one measly hour of modest sacrifice is not asking much at all.
So, what will you do to go beyond the hour? Turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth and encourage everybody in your household to do the same? Stop buying drinks in single-use plastic bottles? Arrange a car share scheme at work? Compost your garden and kitchen waste?
There’s also the rather amusing I Will If You Will (IWIYW) campaign this year. Pardon the jokers vowing to commit mass murder or commit suicide if only you’ll start using reusable coffee cups or shunning bottled water; there are some serious ones there. Do let me know your favourites.
Last year, for the duration of Earth Hour, my thoughts were with those poor souls in Fukushima, Japan, facing with such tremendous courage the most terrifying Level Seven nuclear catastrophe. I thought, too, about the huge cost many countries are still willing to pay for cheap electricity which its citizens will ultimately waste without shame or thought for the dangers connected with its provision. This year, I’ve thought of those who are not able to command artificial light or heat with the casual flick of a switch, but also of those who have the switch but dare not touch it quite as often as they’d like or perhaps once did for fear of rising energy bills causing further descent into fuel poverty, while the profits of energy companies continue to soar.
Earth Hour, essentially, is designed to highlight the wastefulness of non-essential lighting; it’s not about saving energy for one hour but about raising awareness and creating an opportunity for people to show others that they care deeply about climate change and to inspire others still to alter their habits for the wider good. As irritated as I may be by the loud, joyful hypocrisy of it all, I can’t fault the thought behind it.
Please try to reduce your energy consumption, and not just for an hour and not just tonight – although Earth Hour is between 8.30pm and 9.30pm tonight, if I’ve caught you in time. It’s a bit inconvenient, that’s all. I happen to quite like the occasional hour of quiet contemplation and welcome a chance to sit and ponder. It’s why I’m usually so miserable. But remember: don’t go lighting candles unless they’re made of one hundred per cent beeswax and thus natural and non-toxic, unlike the nasty petroleum-based ones. And don’t send those dreadful Chinese lanterns into the night sky. Sure, they look pretty, but paper plus fire and absolutely no control over where they land seems incredibly careless to me, and haven’t you read about cows ingesting the charred wire remains? These are banned in many countries for good reason, so I wish the WWF wouldn’t indirectly encourage their use through the many impressive photographs on its website (much in the same way that I wish people weren’t encouraged to hang up suet balls in their horrible plastic netting for garden birds to feed and possibly maim themselves on. Think, people.)
Last of all, for those of you in the UK, please be advised to move your canisters of emergency petrol to a safe place before lighting your beeswax candles. If stockpiling pasties or postage stamps, you might also wish to move those, just to be on the safe side.