What’s the point of Earth Hour?

earth hour at oxford stIt’s Earth Hour here – but by the time I finish this post it will be over. From 8.30 local time people across the world we’re told that people have been turning their lights off to show their support for action on climate change – it’s being presented as a chance to vote and the organisers intend to take some count of the people who participated to the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.

Why would you do this? Will it make a difference to what “world leaders” decide in Copenhagen whether 1,000,000 people do it, or 10,000,000? Probably not, at least the numbers don’t really matter. Some action will be promised, some suggested action will be refused. I can’t imagine anyone in power saying “Well because several hundred thousand people sat in the dark for an hour in my country, I’m going to make sure something gets done”.

So will the switching off of lights have a big effect in itself? Especially with compulsory low power light bulbs, switching off the lights for an hour in this house represents a reduction of much less than .5kwh. In our total monthly consumption that’s nothing. And anyway, it looks like shops in the West End weren’t doing much.

Is it an empty gesture then? In a world where stuff is only achieved if it is done by “world leaders” then yes, probably. But we don’t live in that world, we never have and we’re just realising that we can do an awful lot for ourselves – both as individuals and members of corporations and organisations. (I plan to write about this more over the next week in the run up to the G-20 summit)

So what use is it? Well of course we social media types like to point to the fact that it’s part of a conversation. Those of us even further up our own arses will point out that earthhour is a “social object” something around which many of us have come together whether you said “Yes, I’m part of this” or “God, this is a waste of time” doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we’ve taken part.

But surely that’s still an empty gesture? Does talking about it make it any more useful? Do any fewer polar bears die? Does the economy get any better at all? No, it depends on some action. I won’t tell you what to do, but here’s a suggestion for people who are on twitter.

Take a look at some tweets marked #earthhour among people you already follow and who live nearby. Get in touch with them and arrange to have a coffee in the next week and talk about earth hour properly, about what you did, about what you think about climate change, about what you’re doing for the environment, what you’d like to do, maybe what you can do together or with other people – and then do it. Even better if you write about it on your blog. A bonus suggestion for the brave: find someone on twitter who lives locally whom you don’t already know or follow (easier in smaller places than in large ones – use Advanced Search on search.twitter.com) and do the same.

Or not.