Earth Hour may be more symbolic than productive

Here in the Interior News office, we recently got a press release from the B.C. government concerning Earth Hour, and there was one small line that I just can’t seem to get past, even though it was arguably the least important part of the release.

While promoting the recent annual event of shutting the lights off for an hour as a symbolic gesture (although the symbolism is not really specifically defined enough for my taste), the writer of the release suggest that “In addition to flicking the switch, you can pledge support by hanging a BC Hydro Power Smart poster in your window to let neighbours know you will be participating in Earth Hour.”

Seems harmless enough, sure, and well intentioned, but there’s a proverbial problem with good intentions and their road-paving properties.

As a long-time fan of not destroying the planet, I’m always conflicted by initiatives like these; on the one hand, they theoretically raise awareness of conservation issues. On the other hand, they don’t actually really accomplish much, in concrete terms, while making some people feel like they’re off the hook because they’ve done their part for an hour.

Sunday’s press release trumpeted that B.C. residents saved 117 megawatt hours of electricity; and – as is the style of infrastructure facts and figures, this amount was dumbed down for the average joe, as well as updated for current legislation – it was “the equivalent of turning off about 7.8 million 15-watt compact flourescent light bulbs.”

Which is all well and good, but who’s actually going to turn the power off for an extra hour every day for the rest of the year? Who cares how many compact flourescent light bulbs that power is equal to? Why not phrase the results in a manner that might inspire people to actually change?

Electricity  is still generated by drying up rivers to fill reservoirs, burning fossil fuels and creating pollution, carbon dioxide and other lovely emissions, or, in other areas of the world, by nuclear fission, leaving a 10,000 year legacy of radioactive waste.

So tell us that by saving 117 megawatt hours, we saved 14 tonnes of coal from being burned; tell us we stopped countless tonnes of carbon dioxide from burning natural gas; tell us we added a month to the time left before the entire Nechako River is diverted for power generation; tell us that if we did this daily for a year, we could stop one nuclear fuel rod from being consumed.

Sure, it’s great to turn out the lights for an hour (even if the original Australian idea was to kill the power completely, the difference being that Sydney averages a low of +17.5°C in the month of March). It’s kind of fun to hang around and play cards by candlelight. I even saved on refrigeration power by putting my beer on the porch. Maybe some of us thought about how we live, how often we don’t think about conserving energy, and how much power we could probably save by doing a few simple things. But most of the few Smithers residents who actually took part in Earth Hour probably either sat through it waiting to turn the hockey game back on, or had a bit of fun with family and friends, and went about their night as usual afterwards.

Getting back to that poster, the one B.C. Hydro wanted me to post in my window. The unintended message I read into it was save electricity, waste paper. And since we’re in Smithers, when I’m done advertising my participation in Earth Hour, I have to get in my car and drive that poster to the recycling centre.

The irony is killing me.


Jon Muldoon is The Interior News’ sports reporter and writes the columns Mulling it Over and Wilderness Man.