The event definitely suffers from a bit from the “Bono effect”; with all these celebrities hovering around, it's a bit hard to take it seriously. Then there is the issue of how much power the event will even save? These criticisms have been levelled at the event since it started in Sydney two years ago. But focusing on them misses the real point of Earth Hour (see today's NYT for example). It isn't about saving an hour's worth of electricity, or bringing attention to the amount of energy that our skylines consume, or about giving us a chance to see the stars. The point of Earth Hour is to create a world wide show of support for action on climate change. Right now, that's probably just what we need.
In the lead up to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen – which will define the international approach to climate change for years to come – WWF is capitalizing on this aspect. For the first time, Earth Hour has become what organizers are calling “the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.” They are aiming to recruit 1billion people to “vote earth” by switching off. Now again, if this all seems a bit breathless to you, you're not alone.
But consider where we are: the past two rounds of climate negotiations have failed to produce any real progress. Major players like the US, China, and Canada have been blocking calls for binding targets. And many politicians still seem to feel that the political costs of putting in place real climate change policies are too high. All of this while a steady stream of new scientific studies are confirming that we are on track to go beyond even the worst case scenarios that we were discussing a few years ago:
Emissions are rising 2.5 times faster than we thought and unexpectedly fast melting of the Greenland ice sheet is pushing us toward between 1m and 2m of sea level rise by the end of the century.A major demonstration of international support is just what we need to show that the real costs (political, economic and environmental) come from not acting.
We've been told a bit of a lie about climate change, and that is that our main role as individuals is to reduce our personal consumption. It's true to an extent. If you've changed your bulbs or traded in your car for a bus pass you've helped shave off a few tons from our global emissions.
But we are more than lonley consumers. Amongst other things we are citizens. Mobilizing our political representatives to get serious about climate change is the most important thing that we can do at this point. There are going to be trade-offs along the road to dealing with climate change, and they aren't things that we as individuals are going to be able to balance on our own.
So sign up, turn off your lights on Saturday, and while you're at it write a letter to your political representatives. It doesn't have to be anything long – just a few words to let them know that you've done your part. Now it's time that they do theirs.
[Find your Canadian member of Parliament or US House Representative ]