The blue marble

The Earth Hour: worth joining?

In a few hours, 8:30 to 9:30 pm, WWF invites us to join the Earth Hour ( and switch off lights on a gesture to remind us that our energy consumption patterns are taking a big toll on the biosphere, through effects of green house gases on the Earth’s climate and the impacts associated with the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

The initiative was coined by WWF Australia in 2007, when Sydney citizens and companies were invited to turn of their lights out for one hour to take a stand against climate change. The Earth Hour spread across Australia and then jumped to rest of the World, where it has become a major event.

But shrewd analysts have expressed doubts that the Earth Hour is actually beneficial in terms of energy economy, and others have argued that the massive, global communication campaign to move citizens into joining the Earth Hour leads to massive consumptions of energy, deceiving the purpose. Yet, others argue that the Earth Hour is not nearly enough as one hour power off is inefficient provided the magnitude of the problem.

All of these arguments are correct. However, these analysts really miss the point. The point of the Earth Hour is not to curve energy consumption patterns by virtue of switching lights off for just one hour. I wish this be all it would take…

Since the Earth Hour was initiated in 2007, the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere has increased by over 8 ppm, largely due to fossil fuel combustion to produce energy, with green house gas (GHG) emissions increasing at a rate of 3.1 % per year over the past decade. Australians, in particular, support one of the highest per capita GHG emissions in the world, at about 4.5 ton C per capita per year, and the emissions of gases and particles render our urban atmospheres unhealthy.

The very likely consequence of the continued increase in GHF emissions is an ever warmer planet, with the present trajectory of emissions exceeding those considered in moderate scenarios and, thus, likely to drive the planet to a far warmer future than anticipated in most scenarios. The impacts and costs of a warmer planet will be unfathomable, as the impacts cannot be measured on economic losses alone, since it will tally in millions of lives lost as well, as warming enhances the frequency and strength of many natural disasters, such as floods, heat waves and droughts, which impact particularly on the poor, but also on the wealthy, as Australians experienced recently in the Queensland floods.

There is little doubt within the scientific community as to the trajectory these trends are taking us, as these trajectories have been communicated, clearly and loudly - above the noise denialists introduced in mass and social media - to society. Yet, we seem to behave as Lemmings, marching towards a warmer future; driven, perhaps, for the same cause, overpopulation.

A chinese proverb says that If we don’t change our direction we’re likely to end up where we’re headed.

Tonight, at 8:30 pm, switch off the lights for an hour, pause on your life and reflect what direction your steps are taking you. This is what the Earth Hour is about.

(Disclosure: Carlos M. Duarte is a board member of WWF-Spain)