Earth Hour

I'm all for events that raise the public consciousness about environmental issues and I'm all for being more frugal with electricity generally, particularly with turning off brightly lit advertising, however there's something about Earth Hour that doesn't quite sit right with me. Earth Hour was apparently dreamt up with the idea that turning off the lights for one hour will deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming.

I think the questions on Lee's Blog (which I recently discovered) are very pertinent - are the power companies on board with this, understanding that there will be a dramatic decrease, then a surge, in demand? The Earth Hour FAQ says that coal fired (and gas and hydro) power stations respond to the power demand and therefore "it is very likely Earth Hour will cause a reduction in fossil energy power generation" which doesn't really sound that promising in terms of actually decreasing fossil fuel consumption to me.

What do people do while they have their lights off? Apart from spending some quality time together in their bedrooms (!) almost every activity needs some light. I don't think you are really in the spirit of the thing if you watch TV or surf on the 'net (no live blogging!) and since Asher will be asleep we can't take a stroll around the neighborhood. So what to do for light? Candles? The battery powered lantern that Eithne took camping that we now have? Ah, candles....

The Earth Hour FAQ gives all the usual safety warnings about candles and says:

If you plan on burning candles during Earth Hour, make sure you use 100% beeswax
candles which are gentler on our planet – smoke free, non-toxic and
non-allergenic. They are also made of natural products, not petroleum-based
materials, so they are effectively carbon neutral (the CO2 they emit has already
been taken from the atmosphere to produce the wax).

Now, apart from the fact that people should use whatever candles they already have at home so as not to increase candle production I tend to agree that they should use beeswax candles. However, I have a major problem with the idea that because they were produced with CO2 from the atmosphere and will release their CO2 back into the atmosphere, they are carbon neutral. Coal was once a plant material that got it's CO2 from the atmosphere so burning it is 'carbon neutral'? I don't think so. Light bulbs, particularly the modern long-life low-wattage bulbs are pretty efficient at creating light, much more efficient than candles. How much CO2 does an average candle emit when burnt? Letters to the SMH claim between 15g and 220g (although I suspect that the last estimate requires all the wax to be burnt, which it wouldn't be with a beeswax candle).

So, despite my cynicism, I will turn the lights off for Earth Hour, in fact I'll turn pretty much everything off. Just like last year, Sanjay and I will play Scrabble by candle-light and hope that as we all unplug we think of ways to keep things turned off for longer - read, talk, make music or play games instead of using computers and the TV and leave things turned off at the wall so they don't consume power while on standby, drive less, consume less, recycle their aluminium foil as well as their cans, lobby to have advertising signs turned off late at night, take our own bags and, as we do these things, I hope we feel productive and content.

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