Earth Hour

by uwchevron

Author: Aidan Coward

Earth Hour is an international event where individuals and businesses turn off their non-essential lights for an hour to promote awareness of environmental causes and “as a symbol for commitment to the planet.” To date, over 7,000 cities and towns participate. Earth Hour does not focus specifically on any environmental issues in particular, but aims to foster discussion on a “broad range of environmental issues”. The event is highly publicized, recognizable and has partnerships with multiple organizations and corporations in order to further its goals.

While Earth Hour has an admirable sentiment, it runs into the same difficulties as other campaigns based around awareness: that it doesn’t actually achieve much. This situation is compounded given how much effort is invested and the amount of publicity is is given. In the case of Earth Hour, people participate in a short-term and shortsighted event with no potential for significant change. One could make the conclusion that it provides an example of humanity working together towards a common goal, yet it is insignificant, with no meaningful changes in behaviour beyond a trivial action.

The organizers of Earth Hour recognize that it is a symbolic action. Unfortunately, it is also an empty one. The organizers also state that it is not an energy reduction exercise. This leaves the event in tough spot. Not only does it openly lack meaningful short-term effects, it also suffers from a lack of long-term effects. Publicly voicing that one is participating in such an activity is unlikely to change anyone else’s mind about the issue, especially when there is no definite issue being brought up, merely a large host of problems that are labelled to be environmentally related. Significant change requires a significant investiture of effort far beyond one hour per year. One must commit to act in a way that perpetuates the world one wants to see exist and all the posturing in the world will not achieve this. Regardless of the intentions of the organizers of Earth Hour, it has yet to move beyond a self-congratulatory event with little to no actual results.

A danger of the continued existence of “awareness” campaigns such as Earth Hour is that they promote relatively meaningless efforts that accompany very little, if any, actual change regarding the issue at hand. They also perpetuate the incorrect notion that one can effect meaningful social change with minimal effort. How many awareness campaigns actually push people to change the world in a way that will eliminate or reduce the problem addressed? While there is a place for large-scale public statements, they are certainly not to raise “awareness” of something that has already been discussed to death in the public sphere. Participation in such a campaign may make one feel good about one’s actions, but how useful can they be if they don’t have any real impact on the issue targeted by the campaign? Events such as Earth Hour don’t point at anything in particular to work on and so just serve as empty promises of change that have no direction.

Copy-pasting a Facebook status or sharing a touching photo may make one feel that one is making a difference, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Instead of passively requesting that the world change around you, look for what you can do to make the world closer to how you would like to see it. Consider volunteering with a campus or community organization that works for change or start something if nothing currently exists.