Earth Hour – A Global Stunt?

Check out this page of pictures from this years Earth Hour, where households and businesses are encouraged to turn off non-essential lights and electrical appliances. Of course as in previous years, my biggest issue with the whole thing is it gets turned into one giant publicity stunt by numerous cities and businesses around the world, quite simply because at the end of the hour, they turn all those non-essential lights back on again.

Take a look through the pictures and consider how much energy is being wasted floodlighting buildings like the Houses of Parliament, the Sydney Opera House, or the CN Tower in Toronto for the 364 days, 23 hours a year that Earth Hour isn’t taking place.

Professor Ian James, our Diocesan Environment Advisor makes the point well with regards to churches, and it can equally apply to other buildings – indeed I used this article to back my argument that we shouldn’t floodlight St James’ as part of the upcoming conservation work:

Floodlighting a large empty building consumes as much electricity as lighting several houses. That electricity is a scarce resource and generating it puts carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing climate change. The message could be that the church is more concerned to glorify itself than to worry about its effect on its neighbours, that Christians don’t care very much about the unnecessary pollution of our world and the frivolous consumption of scarce resources.

Apart from the carbon dioxide pollution, ‘light pollution’ has now reached such levels that few people living in Southern Britain have ever the seen the night sky properly and certainly have never seen the Milky Way. I wonder which is the greater witness to God: a neo-Gothic Victorian pile lit up like a Disneyland extravaganza, or the awesome majesty of the night sky on a truly dark night, with its millions of stars blazing bravely in the blackness of space?

Are any of those buildings any the less usable with the floodlighting turned off? You can see the inside lights on the Opera House are still on, in Westminster the street lights are still on, and with the floodlighting gone it’s pretty obvious nobody is in the Houses of Parliament. In the various cityscapes warning lights for aircraft remain on, and indeed in many of them the ambient light from the essential lights continues to provide some visibility of the buildings anyway.

Also, with the reduction in consumption, which power stations do you think are being shut off? I can tell you it isn’t the big, polluting coal stations as they are slow to react, so are generally used as baseload for the grid – instead they dial down the fast response stations that they can easily control, things like the hyrdo-electric and pumped storage stations that in the UK get used to cope with peaks and troughs in demand.

So was I cheering Earth Hour? Not particularly. True it reduces electricity consumption, but it doesn’t reduce emissions as it’s often the flexible, clean generating plant that gets shut down first. I’m also not going to be cheering when it is so obviously a publicity stunt on the part of big organisations. It’s all very well shutting off your floodlights for an hour, but if you’re really serious about not wasting energy they should be turned off, and stay off. The same is true at home, did you sit in darkness for an hour and then just turn everything back on again – or did it make you think, and only use the lights and appliances you need rather than leaving them plugged in, turned on and wasting energy?

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