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Earthhour – Inspiration, collective meaning and the dangers of virtual absolution.

March 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. |

photo of a candle burning at st luke's church, holloway8.30-9.30 on Saturday night was Earth Hour. The idea was for everyone to turn off their lights for one hour as a symbol of their recognition of the problem of climate change, and the effect of our energy consumption and its environmental impact thereon. (at least, that’s my paraphrase).

It wasn’t without its naysayers, and it was indeed fairly easy to frame it as an empty gesture designed to absolve the partakers of their complicity in a culture of conspicuous consumption that got us into this mess. After all, turning off your lights for an hour isn’t going to change much, is it?

Well, actually, it could. And that, for me, is the joy of these kind of mass actions. Only the seriously deluded could possibly think that switching off your lights for one hour is going to have any material impact on the problem of the incremental rise in global temperature. No, what is was was a symbol. A gesture that got us thinking, and talking and feeling like we weren’t just sitting here on our own feeling guilty about just how hippyish our own concerns about the planet are. It was a time for us all to get creative and imaginative in talking about, tweeting about and considering the possibilities of reduced energy consumption. And then – in response to all that thinking and talking and idea-sharing – do something about it.

Maybe it’ll lead to some people turning off their lights routinely, as part of a strategy of reducing their energy consumption. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of conversations about where most of the energy in our houses goes (anything heat-related, mostly – electric heaters, tumble dryers, elec. kettles….) And we’ll start to think of better ways of drying clothes, or turning down thermostats, or not heating unused rooms… These are the kind of conversations that are best sparked by a mass action. A mass symbolic action.

Let’s face it, starting the public dialogue about climate change issues by telling everyone who owns a car that they are planet-destroying scum isn’t really going to change anything. It’s forces people to defend their current energy use patterns, instead of us all accepting culpability together and hoping to inspire one another to change.

Earlier on today, we had a great chat on the boat about what we can do to save energy, how we can reduce our leccie bills and harness the natural energy around us. It was fun, creative, inspiring and helpful. And it came out of us talking about Earth hour.

Actions like this can be empty. They can be passifiers, ways of abdicating responsibility, of feeling less guilty. But they don’t have to be. They have potential to inspire, to collectivize, to encourage, coordinate and challenge. And I’m pushing for the latter.

Lovely Lloyd David wrote a piece with a few imaginative earth hour suggestions here.

So, what did you do? How did it help you think about climate change, energy, culture, consumption? What conversations did it spark? Do you feel more helpless and alone afterwards, or inspired that the people around you care as well? Thoughts and comments please, lovely people.

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  • paddy

    i played foosball by candlelight in honour of earth hour 😀

  • Steve Clark

    We watched TV (energy hungry CRT) with the lights off. I shut down the PC, so we were probably using around 200W less than usual. I wonder if enough people did something for this to register with the electricity companies. If so then they probably had to be prepared for a surge at 9:30.

    I’ve seen several people saying Earth Hour wastes energy overall and is pointless, but it’s an alternative to us all travelling to a big demo.

    I’m pretty energy conscious anyway, so turn things off when not required. I’d like to fit some more low energy bulb, but that means changing some dimmer units.

    I would think that your boat would have some potential for reasonable wind power, but if you already have mains then it’s hard to justify for cost and use of resources for batteries etc.

    We need everyone to cut their energy usage before renewables can be viable.

  • Pär Berglund

    One particular effect of this, was the impact it had on my children (6 and 9 years old). They were on to it already in the morning, challenging me to turn off all my computers. :-) For them this was something real, something they could grasp and think about. Before, it was only imaginary talk.

  • Patrick

    A good post! I sat by candle light listening to “Beyond the Missouri Sky” (believe it or not prompted by your tweet about Josh Haden earlier in the day!). It was very contemplative.

    It did spark conversation – before and after. I was actually by myself during the hour.

    I believe climate change is very important; anything that one can do to raise the issue up the agenda is important.

  • Scott

    I totally missed it, but love the idea. Having two small children and not following the news regularly can yield results such as these. I’ll be there next time for sure… but why not just make a point to use less power in general. In fact, I’m closing my laptop right this very moment. Thanks.

  • Jennifer

    @ Steve Clark – you may know this already, but you can get low-energy dimmable bulbs nowadays too. They’re expensive compared to the ordinary kind though.

  • Darren Landrum

    My next car is going to be electric. That much I know for sure. I’ll probably build it myself using an old car chassis and body with a bad/non-existent engine. I’m hoping to get a 200 mile range out of it so I can get from home to my university and back (yes, us Americans and our impossibly-long commutes).

  • Mary Q Contrarie

    Great post. You really understand why these types of actions are necessary. As a result of the conversation we had at an Earth Hour gathering. I purchased a clothes drying rack and have not used my drying machine since.