Niki Cheong is blogging

When the lights go out - my thoughts on Earth Hour 2011

Dinner at TJ Haus

I am back in KL for the weekend (about to fly off in an hour) to celebrate a few birthdays in the family (yes, many Aries). We went off to TJ Haus in Subang and as I was driving, dad got a call from my sister saying that we’ll have to eat in the dark.

The tiny neighbourhood restaurant was participating in Earth Hour 2011. For those who don’t know, Earth Hour is a global event (third year, I think) which encourages government, organisations and individuals to turn off their electricity for an hour a year for the climate change cause.

As we were walking in to the restaurant, I figured that it would be pretty empty; after all, how many people would want to eat in the dark when the rest of the eateries next to it have their lights on. I was wrong. TJ Haus wasn’t just full but people kept streaming in as others finished their meals.

For me, this was a sign that those present were well aware of the campaign and were for it (or at least, had nothing against it).

The same cannot be said for some people I’m following on Twitter. While there were many encouraging tweets, there were quite a few cynics as well who feel like shutting down the power for one hour isn’t going to make much of a difference. Others felt like we should be encouraging people to turn off excess power all the time, as opposed to just an hour a year.

I think this is where some people don’t get the campaign. Sure, the earth stand to gain from this one hour, but yes, I agree that it’s not as impactful (is that even a word?) as if there is Earth Hour every day.

But I think that the campaign isn’t only to save one hour of power. Granted, in the early stages, pro-Earth Hour folks threw about statistics about how much power was saved in the hour. However, this I think should be taken symbolically, as in to indicate that this is how much power we are dealing with on a daily basis.

Is it a gimmick, then? Sure it is. But in this day an age where people are finding new, innovative and creative ways to grab each others attention (considering our short attention span), isn’t this then an effective way to raise awareness about the very serious global warming problem?

For me, Earth Hour really is about the awareness and the seed-planting of the concept of “Save the Environment” in the heads of many people who would otherwise not be bothered, or not have access to such information.

The one hour yesterday might not make a huge impact literally in saving the environment, but the potential to put into action many other activities – from larger pro-environment campaign to the little effort of making someone turn off some power when he/she goes to bed – is enormous.

Check out this video (thanks to Sivin Kit for sharing on Facebook) about Earth Hour.


Update (2.06pm):

I came across this note from a new friend Stephen Forshaw on Facebook, and thought I’d share it here. While I initially thought that Stephen and I didn’t see eye to eye on Earth Hour, I get the feeling that what he is saying actually goes in line – and beyond – what I wrote above.

The part that resonated most with me in his note was this:

The people of Japan are now experiencing power shortages, and it is forcing them to make changes.  Some of those changes are not such big sacrifices: turning escalators off at night, using fewer lights in offices during the daytime, moving sporting fixtures from night games to day games, shops closing a little earlier … these are sacrifices made necessary by hard times; in simple economic terms, trying to reduce demand to meet lower supply.

Earth Hour is a good global PR exercise.  However, for how much longer should it go on?  For it to be successful in its mission, it must claim some significant and permanent changes of behaviour that evidence how we embrace actions that save power all the time.

On that score, Earth Hour still hasn’t changed us enough.

He is right. Earth Hour can really make a difference. So it’s hard three good years of gimmick and publicity – the engine now needs to move ahead and make sure that the messages and lessons continue to the rest of the hours of the year.

8.14am Malaysian time (+8 GMT)

Discussion (8)

There are 8 responses to “When the lights go out – my thoughts on Earth Hour 2011”.

  1. Yes, you’re spot on Nicky. In the last couple of years, the amount of energy used on Earth Hour evenings were a lot more than average as there were plenty of parties and celebrations gone on right after – even here in KL, Bukit Bintang was buzzing. It was not about saving energy on the night, but more as to create awareness. One worry though if that will turn into another excuse to party ……

    • Nothing wrong with partying though. But we have to make sure that the messages get through.

      I think it’s all about finding the best platform to meet your target audience, if it takes a novel idea (although to some may appear somewhat redundant), then so be it.

  2. ken responded:

    · Reply

    I agree that it creates awareness, but doesn’t make such an impact. Even the power plants don’t shut down, does it mean that the amount of electricity generated is still the same?

    Nevertheless, I still do my part for Earth Hour. Switching off non-essential lights and electrical appliances. :)

    • I think your second sentence proves my point. If you’re doing your part, hasn’t impact been made then? We need to look at impact from an individual point of view as well, not just collective!

  3. I like how you think it’s a seed that hopefully, would grow and blossom into full understanding of the sustainbility concept.

    I suppose, it is a little like how Valentine’s Day is over-marketed commercially (very cheesy comparison, I know) but I have a feeling the whole point of making Valentine’s Day a ‘big’ thing was to encourage couples to treat each other better.

    Well, hopefully, Earth Hour does not go out-of-hand like how V-Day has. And hopefully, like how they say every day is Valentine’s Day when you are with the right person in the right frame of mind, every hour will be Earth Hour when we do our part to help Mother Nature out.

    • Well, that really depends on how you view Valentine’s Day.

      I don’t have a problem with it, and if Earth Hour can make as big an impact as V Day, then it’s brilliant!

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