Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why I think Earth Hour was just a pointless gimmick

Today I was was sent this webcomic by the artist's brother, whom I know via StumbleUpon. It's a special comic in support of Earth Hour, which yesterday aimed to persuade 1 billion people around the world to turn off their lights for sixty minutes.

Sadly, I had a couple of problems with it.

The first is that the comic itself is based upon a myth. On numerous occasions over the last couple of years, people on the Internet have suggested that web pages with a black background are environmentally friendly because monitors consume much less energy to display black than white.

Unfortunately, this information is based on old CRT monitors, and hence some way out of date. Most people are now using LCD screens, which produce images in a completely different way, and actually consume slightly more energy to display black webpages than white.

The second problem is with Earth Hour itself. I just don't know what exactly it is trying to achieve, and its website offers very little help in answering my question.

From their home page, it seems to be asking for people to "vote" for action, by turning their lights off, in order to make decision makers sit up and listen. It took six or seven clicks before I could even find a page of FAQs that could confirm this rather feeble request.

Job done, then, surely? The world has spoken, and said, "We think something should be done," and the leaders will listen, and say, "Thanks for letting us know."

That's not going to be much of an achievement though, is it? I would have thought that we'd gone some way beyond that now and had started asking for specific changes in policy, but it seems we're not.

Or maybe, the environmental campaign experts have figured out what to ask for, but they're not telling us, their supporters. Which makes our "voting" for something we're not being told about a bit meaningless, and very very easy to ignore.

If I'm going to support a campaign, I want to see around two to five clear and concise aims on their front page. Then other pages can go into more detail. I want to see what I'm asking decision makers to do.

I want to see that I'm asking them to reduce fossil fuel emissions, subsidise research into alternatives to the internal combustion engine, limit the abilities of multi-nationals to cut down large areas of rainforests.

I don't know what "urgent and unified action" looks like, and neither do our leaders. We have to be much more specific than that.

Otherwise a stunt like this just looks like yet another way for us to feel better about doing nothing.


[Edit: I've realised from Jay's comment (that's the guy whose webcomic started me thinking) and then reading my post back that I probably sound a bit harsh on him. The black background myth was merely what started me thinking, and it's a myth that lots of people harbour, so I would never intend to slur someone who simply didn't realise it wasn't true - that would be deeply unfair. Also, his site is excellent - do check out his other artwork.]


  1. My sentiments exactly. It's as pointless as having a vote for or against bird flu. We all agree something needs to be done, so let's get specific.

  2. Thanks Jon, glad it's not just me.

    I've been in a volunteer advocacy group for improved international policy on Young People's Sexual and Reproductive Health this last year.

    Or "asks" are far more specific than Earth Hour's, but there's still a lot of room for improvement.

    How do they hope to measure their progress?

  3. Sorry, maybe that last comment sounded a little bit tossy. It's just I recognise that it's a very difficult, as well as very necessary, thing to do.

    You need to be able to explain to someone at a dinner party what you want to achieve without boring or confusing them. It needs to be that clear.

    And if it is that clear, then it also makes it much easier to check you're on track, and that everything you do moves you closer to that goal.

    It also makes it much easier to gain very active, and influential, supporters.

  4. I think it was a very good iniative. If only for people to realize that electricity is not taken for granted.

  5. But that's not what its stated aim was. Its (incredibly vague) stated aim was to influence decision makers.

    Its aim was *not* to make ordinary people realise that they shouldn't take electricity for granted. If that was their aim, then they went a funny way about achieving it.

    This is an event that encouraged people to turn off their lights, and then spend the whole hour using their computers and digital cameras to tell everyone about it.

    Which kind of defeats the point of turning the lights off in the first place.

    Everything about Earth Hour is counter-productive. It presents a confused and incoherent manifesto that is easy for the politicians to ignore.

  6. I just wanted to point out that the "webcomic" if you wish to call it that is not really based on anything other than a personal choice I made in participation with other individuals.

    I think it is excellent that you point out the myth that a black background takes up less energy than other color background. For me, this was hardly the point however.

    It was just a simple symbolic message just like Earth Hour itself. As you say, Earth Hour unfortunately cannot be taken seriously as a policy initiative, but symbols can and do matter.

    I spent one hour in darkness last night basking in the glow of a little candle light. I am glad that I did.

  7. Cheers for the comment, Jay. Glad you participated properly in Earth Hour, I just think it's a huge shame that the campaign itself is not as coherent as it should be.

    With a clearer message and better design and promotion, it could have been a much more significant movement.

    The black background myth was what triggered in my mind initially, leading me to look further into Earth Hour. Hopefully this is fairly obvious and my post doesn't look like any attack on your site.

    Sorry if you're offended by my use of the word webcomic. I do not intend it as any kind of belittlement, to me it describes a wide range of different types of sites displaying illustrations.

  8. PS I do really like your site and your artwork. Forgot to put that in with the last paragraph.

  9. i myself turned extra lights on to hopefully balance out and offset the difference between the people trying to tell someone about the easter bunny, i mean global warming errr ahh climate change and the people who know the easter bunny doesn't exist and aren't afraid to tell the little children that it doesn't exist. get ready for the biggest scam of yours or anyones lifetime, CAP & TRADE, now there's the money shot. most people knew it was about money when Father Al came out with his movie but just weren't sure exactly how Al, the snake oil salesman was going to do it, now it's perfectly clear. So when you have no electric to charge up your electric car, that you feel so good about driving (and made a footprint the size of chicago to produce it) don't come crying, go talk to the tooth fairy!

  10. Thanks, "anonymous", if indeed that is your real name, that's really informative and factual.

    The fact is that climate change does exist. Note, "climate change", not "global warming", as while average global temperatures are rising, this will continue to affect weather patterns and some places will get colder not warmer.

    This is not in dispute by any scientist who is not on the payroll of the fossil fuels lobby. And it should not be in dispute that CO2 levels have changed drastically more than they would have done anyway, thanks to human action.

    I presume that you live in a nice house, in a nice country, and that you will likely remain unaffected by the severe weather events that are already happening more frequently as a result of the destabilised climate.

    Spare a thought or three please, then, for the billions of people living in developing countries, in poorly constructed dwellings, with the environment around them stripped of the natural forests that once protected them from the whims of Mother Nature.

    For they, as ever, will be the ones who suffer as a result of the industry of developed nations.

    Taking political sides with your politicians over their politicians is rarely a sensible, or indeed intelligent, move, and it is even less so in this case.

    In fact it is deeply immoral.

    Please go away and rethink your outlook on life.


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