Earth Hour

By Miriam Chacko
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The 29th of March 2014 from 8:30 to 9:30pm is Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is an eight year tradition of increasing popularity that sets out to create awareness on global environmental issues. This year, WWF is calling it Earth Hour Blue, which led me to think that this time there would be a focus on protecting the oceans.

Upon reading the website, I was corrected, and a bit confused, to find that it had nothing to do with marine conservation. Instead, it simply read, “Earth Hour Blue is an all-encompassing, global crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing platform for the planet. It completes the shift from Earth Hour the event to Earth Hour the movement.”

Essentially, participants are requested to switch off all unnecessary lights for one hour to show their support, which makes it more a rebranding of the existing tradition than any new manifesto.

Earth Hour has been successful in drawing interest to its cause from all over the world, and providing a platform for organisations and communities to speak out and remind people of various environmental problems facing the planet. Cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Dubai, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing and others have called attention to the cause by switching off the lights of world renowned, historical landmarks.

However, for the sake of saving power, switching off unnecessary lights should be a reality practiced well beyond Earth Hour and in homes. Some people leave the lights on when they have left the house, to give the impression that the house is not empty. Some keep a hint of light when they are asleep, because they are scared of the dark. Some keep the outside of their homes well lit throughout the night for cosmetic and security reasons. Would such lighting practices be considered unnecessary? At the end of the day, the onus is on us to decide which lights to switch off, and when.

Switching off unnecessary lights is a behavior trend, similar to BYOB (Bringing Your Own Bag) while shopping. These trends are encouraged by environmental campaigns to reduce our negative impact on our surroundings.

The fact is that convincing people to adopt pro-environmental behaviour that has little direct benefit to them, except personal satisfaction and possibly praise from others, can be challenging. However, research has shown that people are more willing to take on such pro-environmental behaviours, rather than high-cost measures of driving less, reducing the thermostat or installing solar panels.

Factors such as – time and money spent, discomfort and additional effort – help distinguish between a high-cost and a low-cost behaviour. Most families are able to observe pro-environmental practices on a domestic level, but understandably cannot compromise in public areas like work. Therefore, to provide incentive is to remind people of how easy and low-cost it is to switch off lights when you are not using them.

What is now considered an environmental faux pas was the greatest inventions of its time.

The first incandescent lamp was an invention that sparked electric power production and spearheaded development at an unimaginable pace. But that was 1879 and since the 1930s, in an effort to save power and reduce Green House Gas emissions, the more energy-efficient Flourescent Lamps and later, the Compact Flourescent Lamps (CFL) flooded the market.

Most governments have phased out or are in the process of phasing out incandescent lamps. But the CFL also has its disadvantages. The mercury content in a CFL, for example, is an environmental hazard if and when it reaches the landfills. The latest improvement on lamps is Solid-state lighting (SSL) which uses Light-emitting diodes (LED) as sources of illumination rather than electrical filaments, which are used in CFLs. SSL technology holds promise for lower energy consumption and reduced maintenance.

Today, efficient lighting is perhaps the single most important mitigation technology that is relevant to both the developed and developing world, and has special importance for the least developed parts of the world, as the first technology in a newly electrified household is generally a light bulb.

Upon comparing village and urban households in Sarawak, in their use of electricity it was reported that the ratio of kWh/month usage of urban to rural households on average is 5:1 (RAEL, 2013). Earth Hour can bring such issues to light and support organizations and projects to help bridge this divide. On one hand urban dwellers need to save energy and on the other, rural access to electrification needs improving. But in both scenarios, energy-efficiency is vital.

Whether we participate in Earth Hour or not, it is an effective reminder for people to be cautious in the way they use energy, on a daily basis. Our power lies in making wise consumer decisions and convincing friends and family by example.

Earth Hour also makes us aware of the divide between developed areas and parts of the world that remain in darkness without access to affordable energy. Ultimately, there is a need for balance. Balance between an excess and absence of energy, between symbolism and pragmatism, and between saving and spending. Achieving such balance in the near future is unreal, yet knowing that there is a need for it can change our outlook on pro-environmental living.

Miriam Chacko is essentially an environmentalist. After completing her postgraduate degree in Environment and International Development from the University of East Anglia, she got involved in projects promoting environmental awareness. Drawing on her experience, she has written articles on climate change and conservation. 

A keen traveller, she has visited many countries in and around Asia and her love of the outdoors and interest in different cultures comes through in her writing.

Miriam has been writing for The Borneo Post SEEDS since 2013. 

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