Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oh Earth Hour, why do you waste so much energy?

I write this just as Earth Hour is about to start. earth-hour

I won’t be observing it. I don’t think I ever have. To those who do, give yourselves a big golf clap. Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007. It was a way of bringing attention to the issue of Climate Change. It may have been effective, it may have helped bring down a climate change denying Howard Government. Though I doubt it.

According to Wikipedia, apparently 121 countries have signed up to observe Earth Hour. Goody. How many of them signed up to carbon reduction targets at Copenhagen?

This is my point. I know Earth Hour organisers don’t try and claim it is saving the world – they know it won’t even make much more than a very small dip in the world energy consumption – but the Climate Change policy war has drastically changed in the last 12-18 months. It has gotten ugly, and the deniers are playing for keeps. Here’s the big point - Earth Hour has grown in size over the last 4 years; but the number of people skeptical of humans’ role in climate change has increased. Last November, Tony Abbott was able to get the Liberal Party to vote against the ETS, and the Liberal Party poll numbers have gone up.

That is not the sign of a successful marketing campaign.

canberra_earth_hourEarth Hour is about raising awareness and getting people thinking about climate change, getting pictures in the media.  Well I have to say, it does get the attention of the media, it may even get people thinking about climate change, but in terms of changing public opinion – and more importantly changing politicians’ votes – it ain’t working. Instead it is quickly becoming a tool used by the deniers to attack those who agree that the science of climate change is overwhelmingly compelling (as I most fervently do).

Today Liberal Environment spokesperson Greg Hunt tweeted to Penny Wong, saying “Don't forget to turn off your lights this year for Earth Hour!”.

So we have a Shadow Environment Spokesperson who supports Earth Hour, but who currently does not support a policy that will put a price on carbon – he support a “direct action” policy which by all reports will do NOTHING, and if by accident it does achieve a small something, it will achieve that in a massively less efficient manner than would either an Emissions Trading Scheme or a Carbon Tax.

That is not the sign of a successful result by the Earth Hour organisers – unless their aim was for Earth Hour to be supported but to achieve a NIL policy outcome.

Look, I understand you need to do stunts to awake the consciousness of people, but Earth Hour is no longer about “Climate Change”, it’s about “Earth Hour”. Do you seriously think there is anyone out there who doesn’t know about climate change? Do you really think there is someone saying tonight, so Earth Hour, what’s all this about.. Huh Climate Change??!! Hell why didn’t someone tell me about this!!!

I’m going to say the number in that category is next to bugger all, and even less are those who are thinking yeah Earth Hour – this will change my vote. Instead what we have is people who either passionately agree with the science or who want to be seen by others to be doing the right thing switching off their lights for an hour (but keeping the plasma TV on). And in the other corner we have Andrew Bolt and Senator Corey Bernardi going on about “Human Achievement Hour” and putting on all their lights. Bolt will then follow this up by showing how little energy consumption went down during the hour (he always does), and mocking those who say turn off your 60 Watt light globe but keep your plasma going.

Now I think Bernardi and Bolt are complete tools, but they’re just an example of how futile is Earth Day in achieving the aim of a policy which will reduce carbon emissions. It preaches only to the converted, and actually hinders the cause.

I guess some would say Earth Hour helps make people think about their energy consumption. In my opinion I seriously doubt it. What influences people’s energy consumption is the same thing that caused my parents to tell me to switch off my bedroom light 30 years ago when no one was caring about climate change – the cost.

You want to make a difference? Spend the energy used to organise Earth Day on lobbying MPs and Senators to come up with a Climate Change policy that will make a difference. Spend that time and money on marketing campaigns targeted at getting to the point where politicians vote for a decent Climate Change policy because if they don’t they’ll lose votes.

I’m all for symbolism – the Sorry Day was an amazing point in Australian history – but symbolism isn’t working if people can support the symbol, but be against policy that will actually make a difference. Politicians and people can use Earth Hour to make themselves feel good, when what we (and companies) really need to do is feel pain when we (and companies) use energy inefficiently – feel that pain in our wallets.

And if Earth Hour isn’t helping bring that about, then sad to say, in my opinion it’s just tokenism.


boynxdor said...

Hi Grog,

Well for the most part I pass by your blog and agree with what you say but rarely comment.

In this instance I also agree that Earth Hour is not everything it is cracked up to be but on this occasion I think it is a valuable reminder to Joe public. It gives them a chance to feel and see for their own eyes that they can make a personal difference. Its almost a tactile thing unlike an election every 4 years where their vote may or may not have made a change something they believe in.

Earth Hour as you point out is a fun way for people to demonstrate to their friends and neighbours that they do care about something. Yes they should write a letter to their MP but thats not so obvious and no where near as fun. Its also a fun activity for parents to share with their kids who will ultimatly be the ones to suffer if we don't change.

I agree that symbolisim won't change the world but often its the first step to greater acceptance and change.

Greg Jericho said...

You may be right boynxdor, but I think we should be past the "first step" when it comes to climate change activism.

I don't think writing a letter to MPs will do much - that's not the type of lobbying I was thinking about. I would advocate a much more pointed and policy driven campaign.

I must admit I am not an expert in such things, but I'd argue Workchoices didn't become such a powerful issue because of the protest days at the MCG, but because of the incredibly effective ad campaign run by the ACTU.

I have to say I do agree with you that the one area that Earth Hour is good is in raising awareness with kids. My 6yo daughter learned about it in school and it certainly got her interested in the issue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Grog

I have been reading your blog for a while and had to comment today because of the topic. The developed world is largely made up of people who are decent. Give them an issue, a fair rationale and they will run with it. Ethiopia, Erithrea, AIDS, kiddy fiddlers in Cambodia - you name it and the boundless good that resides in people reaches out to try and undo the harm.

With climate change, we have an issue where the most significant thing an individual can do is vote for the side that wants to legislate action and bring about systemic change.This is an issue where the individual effort, be it turning lights off once an year, paying to neutralise your ticket on a holiday are just about worthless. They are good in so far as they allow individuals to feel good, but in terms of the global GHG emissions - nothing.

Unless there is a systemic response that begins to provide an economy wide answer all the rest is simply tokenism. If we are not willing to get brown and black coal power generators to become part of the solution - there will be no solution regardless of how much the good and honest individuals wish to make a difference.

Hope this illustrates the fallacy of voting Green and ending up supporting Fielding, Joyce and Minchin in the senate rather than get some (no doubt limited) action started.

Super Opinion said...

Whilst what you are saying is for the most part true, I still think it is missing the point. The general public can only do so much - we can really only vote or voice an opinion.

Voting in the Labor Government didn't achieve what many hoped for global warming - so voicing an opinion becomes the only other option. Earth Hour is just a form of protest, you can see it is effective by how much media coverage it is given.

It can never change the mind of people like Bolt, but for those who are undecided - the media coverage, or opportunity for one scientist to speak on this day could be a deciding factor.

What instead would you have us do? I would gladly have a CPRS or similar mechanism - but my vote is already cast on that - should I rather sit quietly until there is a political party capable of winning government that agrees with me? It could be a long wait.

Apu said...

Further to my anonymous comment.
I think where the government got it wrong was in not understanding clearly what the success criteria were. On the one hand there was a need to design a process - an ETS or some such and on the other was the actual targets to be set. In mixing the two up the level of complexity was increased to a level where senior journalists, talks how hosts and commentators were all shaking their heads saying "too complex".

1. Coverage
The coverage could have been staged, starting with stationary energy and working through the rest of the industries. The fact that agriculture was even being discussed was silly because the ability to measure let alone for the sector to do much meaningful with the results was not available. This allowed the discussion to get side tracked and there were points of view being put forward such as "If you have a thousand cows emitting X GHGs, the only way to reduce emissions is by reducing your herd." This then meant valuable time spent in trying to calm everyone down. similarly, enormous effort went into the EITE sector.

2. Compensation
So without having a scheme agreed there was a rush to the trough for compensation! The EITE industry, the resources sector all lined up and wanted to be compensated. Again this discussion could have been avoided by a step by step approach that would have seen a scheme established, a process agreed and the scope set within which these discussions could be held. Instead, compensation became the main argument and the scheme design was being tweaked to offer better terms to all the stakeholders.

Scheme design and the scaffolding holding it up became the main game rather than getting it through and the politics of it. In another world and at another time this might have been sensible but not now and not here.

I agree there is not much point in crying over spilt milk but the opportunity is for the strategists within Labor to see what they can do after the next election. The scheme is in its current state too big and too complex. Politically, it would be better to split it up and go after the big bad coal burners in the first instance, limit the fight but implement the programme. Once there is a scheme construct up and running it makes it easier for the layers to be added on. Bear in mind the EU ETS at present only covers stationary energy and transportation is under discussion for inclusion from 2013.

Ultimately, no one has won. Industry is waiting for "certainty". There are some tens of billions of dollars worth of investments held up, particularly in the energy sector.

And we haven't reduced GHGs by one tonne!

Greg Jericho said...

I understand what you're saying Soop - but when you say "Earth Hour is just a form of protest, you can see it is effective by how much media coverage it is given". I disagree - how effective it is should be measured by how much political/social change it engenders.

I'm not suggesting we'll ever be able to "convert" Bolt and his ilk. But what we need are campaigns which are so effective that Bolt and his followers will be seen to be the flat earthers that they are, and those who are on the fence will come over to the side of science and reality.

The Deniers are fighting the political war much more effectively than is the environmental side (yes they get help from a mendicant media). They are convincing people that either nothing needs to be done, or that we only need to be a bit more efficient - the direct action bullshit propogated by Abbott.

I have no problems with people participating in Earth Hour - but what is it achieving? Today's Sun Herald had a couple page coverage of it - mostly containing a pic of Sami Lukas.

Nothing in the coverage mentioned anyone saying pressure needs to be applied on Governments here and around the world to bring in effective climate change policy. It was all about "if we work together" nonsense.

If Earth Hour is only conveying a message that if we all just turn off a few more lights things will be ok, then we might as well ask the fairies at the bottom of the garden to come up with a climate change policy.

My point again - the WorkChoices campaign worked because it changed votes - Earth Hour changes nothing.

It promotes a laudable ideal, but it is a poor political strategy.

Peter Wood said...

Countries responsible for over 80% of emissions have signed up to targets for the Copenhagen Accord. This is over twice as much coverage as the Kyoto Protocol.

LissettaV said...

Yeah Greg, good points. I actually agree with boynxdor and also with your response. I know people that started with the first Earth Hour, had a trendy party with their friends on the night, then after that started a quite extreme recycling and re-use scheme at home, and have continued ever since.

However you are so right about what's really needed. Doing Earth Hour and a few things at home, and then voting Liberal is tragic. Maybe we need a campaign - Did you observe Earth Hour? Did you vote Liberal? Here's why it doesn't make sense!

Matt said...

There are several other problems associated with it as well - for one, the message its sending is that the way to solve this problem is to revert back to victorian era lifestyles - it plays right into the paranoia/fear-mongering of deniers "those greenies want to send us all back to the dark ages, reversing human achievement, blah blah". The real issues should be about efficiency, reducing waste and overconsumption, moving to cleaner energy sources. We should be showing people that acting on climate change is part of human achievement and progress to a cleaner future, not contrary to it. You could make the analogy of comparing industrial revolution era society, efficiency and pollution to the current day, and that we need to keep making big steps like that.

The other thing that gets me is the inevitable conclusion of many people who turn off their lights - to light candles instead, which are a much less energy efficient form of lighting even compared to incandescent bulbs, and would emit far more greenhouse gases than the efficiencies of scale of burning coal!*

*I haven't done the math but I think it's a very reasonable guess.