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

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.