Do causes need symbolic gestures? If yes, which ones really work best?
Later tonight, hundreds of millions will participate in something called “Earth Hour”.
According to the Earth Hour website, back in 2007:
The inaugural Earth Hour is held in Sydney Australia 7.30pm – 8.30pm, 2.2 million Sydneysiders and 2,100 businesses participate. Plans are developed to make Earth Hour a national event in Australia, but international interest is high and cities began signing up to the next Earth Hour campaign.
And off it went, around the world.
It’s probably happening in your town tonight , from 8:30-9:30 pm. Lights out everyone! Right down to “candle safety warnings“.
Meanwhile, here’s an essay that says: pish!
… organizers say that they are providing a way to demonstrate one’s desire to “do something” about global warming. But the reality is that Earth Hour teaches all the wrong lessens, and it actually increases CO2 emissions. Its vain symbolism reveals exactly what is wrong with today’s feel-good environmentalism.
The essay’s author is Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School. Going by some of his other commentaries, you might write him off as a contrarian, bent on deflating sacred cows of the environmental movement.
But I like the question of real impact verses empty gestures. Many years ago, I got one of those chain emails urging all consumers to “fight back” and “show those price-gouging oil companies who’s boss!” Everyone was supposed to not buy gasoline on such and such a date. Call me a nitpicker, but that idea made no sense.
OK. Depending on participation, for one day gas sales could plummet – even stop! But so what? The same amount of gas would simply be bought before, or after, the targeted date. It wasn’t like anyone was committing to actually drive less, walk or sell their car. A truly useless gesture – laughable in terms of net effect – or so it seemed to me. Let’s just say oil companies were not trembling at the prospect of that particular people’s day of action.
Is Earth Hour along those lines? Nothing is changed, other than basking in warm and fuzzy feelings?
Earth Hour has attained name-recognition cache, as evidenced by this recent headline: “Vancouver crowned Earth Hour capital by World Wildlife Fund“. But Vancouver is also promoting tangible policies:
The city’s goals in its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan include making all new buildings carbon neutral; increasing the number of green jobs in Vancouver; and seeing residents make over 50 per cent of trips by foot, bicycle or transit.
I expect many participants are using Earth Hour as a symbol that says “people do so care, just look and see”. And, to be fair, the Earth Hour web site does highlight other efforts to actually make tangible changes. Yet my own inner-contrarian doesn’t want to play along with the official blackout, because it feels like a fad (a sham?) that’s taking on compliance pressure.
When it comes to promoting some cause, or making the world a better place, what’s your idea of a gesture that works?
Will your lights be off for an hour tonight? Why or why not?
Speaking of lights and conserving energy, here’s more on an earlier “All In” conversation about lightbulbs. David Pogue writes about personal technology for the New York Times. He says LEDs have arrived, in terms of price point and useful functionality. Pogue says step away from those compact fluorescents and get thee to an LED.
And if you have a better idea than Earth Hour for symbolizing environmental commitment while actually making a difference, please share it!