Spare an hour – and then some – for the planet

Earth Hour is an opportunity to take time out to think about our sustaining planet and what we must do to keep it that way. [19 February 2008 | Peter Boyer]

The Hobart City Council’s vote to reconsider its position on Earth Hour was as inevitable as the grumbling that surrounded it. But the fact that it went back to the Council at all was a clear indication of the strength of public opinion about global warming.

The council’s original tied vote rejected the idea of turning off non-essential lights for an hour at eight o’clock on the evening of Saturday 29 March — a token gesture, said Alderman John Freeman, that trivialised the issue.

On 31 March last year, to raise awareness of climate change, Sydney businesses and homes switched off, along with a few Tasmanian city landmarks. This inaugural Earth Hour has since gone global, with other Australian and international cities recruited to the cause.

In Tasmania, interest in Earth Hour has been aroused by Hobart City Council’s quibbles. Lights on the Tasman Bridge and in government buildings will go off where it’s safe and practicable, though our business participation remains well below the national average.

The inconvenience of being without electric light in these lengthening nights makes it easy to dismiss Earth Hour as a trivial distraction, but Alderman Freeman’s criticism shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Of course an hour without the lights isn’t going to alter the fact that people like us – and the “major industrial users” that Alderman Freeman rightly identifies as prime culprits – are continuing to live way beyond our planet’s means.

Of course the power saving is small – in 2008 Sydney saved about 10 percent of its normal usage at that time – and is compromised by the additional power needed to re-start some light systems.

Of course burning candles won’t help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and of course we shouldn’t take at face value the word of celebrities supporting the idea.

There’s a lot of feel-good stuff here that we would do well to take with a grain of salt. Earth Hour isn’t going to save the planet.
But in this crisis that even now has many of us wondering what all the fuss is about, Earth Hour is a visible public statement that all is not well.

Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to reflect – on the impact we’re having on our world, on our dependence on modern technology, on the way we’ve separated ourselves from the natural systems that enable us to survive.

Those of us who do participate – and my household will be one – also need to remember that being without electric light is nothing compared to the changes we need to make in our lives to make any real impact.

To find out more about Earth Hour, go to

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