Earth Vs The Legion of Lightbulbs

Yesterday was Earth Hour in several places around the world, including here in Dubai. Not much happened, though a few buildings did turn their external lights off. One lovely radio jockey suggested that the best way to spend the hour was to turn off all the lights, fire up some candles, snuggle up with your significant other on the sofa… and watch a romantic movie on DVD (preferably on your big screen HDTV).

Take that, energy conservation!


Elsewhere people in India were complaining that cities like Mumbai were not on the bandwagon, and shame on them for not participating in this noble effort. Um, yeah, except that cities in India go through almost daily scheduled power cuts, most of which last for longer than an hour. There is a prevailing view from what I can gather, that by shutting off our light bulbs for an hour every year, we will all be directly saving the earth.

This, as far as I know, is not strictly true. Most power stations around the world run on fossil fuels; in them power is generated and thrown out onto the grid. If we aren’t using it, they do not actually store any unused energy in large batteries somewhere. If the power companies got together and said, “okay, in order to save the earth we’re going to shut down our power supply for a few hours,” everybody would be up in arms. But that’s really the only way the current electricity supply model is going to help.

Then there’s all the energy that went into publicising the Earth Hour event itself; multi-storey billboards, the energy to light them for days leading up to yesterday, t-shirts and caps, concerts and karaoke and whatnot. The Earth Hour site itself declares it a ‘carbon-neutral’ event in its faq (and also addresses the power issue with what amounts to an “Um, yeah, we know.”) but doesn’t say much else about it. Are they policing every floodlit billboard around the world?

I applaud the idea as a PR exercise, certainly, but I do feel that the execution is little more than a token gesture, and everyone around the world has just jumped on because it’s a lazy, easy way to think we’re making a difference. It’s like every Indian I’ve met who expects the government to solve all their problems personally, in the same way a 5 star hotel might, because, “they voted. (harrumph!)

Conservation and reduction of our energy usage is a vital thing, but we can’t pat ourselves on the back and get back to our wasteful lives just because we shut off the garden light for an hour.