People must do more to reduce carbon emissions than just switching off the lights for an hour a year
FIVE years after Earth Hour started as an internal event to get Australians to take a stand against climate change, the movement has caught on so rapidly that it is now observed in 147 countries and territories, and counting. The 60 minutes is of course purely symbolic. In itself, turning off the lights for one hour in a year hardly amounts to much. But as an awareness-raising exercise, as the first step to a bigger commitment, it serves in getting the public on board with the idea that individuals, the private sector and governments can all play a role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But of the lights that go off, how much of this is only a trend? How much of this will translate to actual energy conservation consciousness? How many people spend time before Earth Hour contemplating what they are going to do beyond just turning off the lights? And after turning the lights back on again, how many even bother to ask, "Now what?". In Malaysia, while some corporations have pledged to adopt green technology or plant trees, commercial enterprises marketed interesting ways to spend the hour -- from encouraging the public to amass at malls to wave LED candles or watch a fireworks display, to enticing people to get into their cars and head to expensive hotels or restaurants for special candle-lit dinners. Some eateries, in a supposed attempt to be even more Earth Hour-friendly, offered charcoal-cooked meals. These commercial ventures provide a good barometer of how some people may be unclear on the concept of Earth Hour -- to reduce carbon emissions and to conserve energy (not just electricity).
Of course, it is developed and developing countries that can choose to raise air-conditioning temperatures, buy energy efficient fridges and televisions, or simply turn off the lights. Twenty per cent of humankind don't even have access to electricity. So, what can the ordinary Malaysian do beyond Earth Hour? Cutting back a bit on online networking is something everyone could do. Last year, a French government agency for energy efficiency calculated that an office worker produces 13.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in emails alone -- the result of fossil fuels used to power computers and servers. One tonne of CO2 is equivalent to what is spent on a round-trip flight from Paris to New York. Yet, even as countries started switching off their lights, "Happy Earth Hour!" had already become the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter. And people sitting in the dark were tweeting that they were sitting in the dark.