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Earth Hour not a token gesture

One's first impression of Earth Hour is that it is a noble but token gesture to try to get the community to jointly recognise the need for global sustainability. The actual impact of turning power off for one hour on a weekend will do squat to reduce the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The physical effect is akin to turning off one light globe while China and the US burn millions of tonnes of CO2 - not even a speck in the universe.

But when one reads about Earth Hour further and realises it is inspired by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to raise global awareness about the impact of green house emissions on the natural environment, one starts to appreciate the significance of Earth Hour. The benefit of Earth Hour is communicating awareness of the problem across ordinary citizens around the world, which is a logical and sensible first step in making change. It also helps raise awareness and respect for what WWF itself is trying to achieve.

The WWF is "one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations". Its mission is "to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and build a future where people live in harmony with nature." Earth Hour "is a call to stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future." SOURCE: EARTH HOUR

So what is the scale of the emissions problem that the WWF is trying to draw attention to?

"In per capita terms, emissions from the U.S. power sector are the second highest in the world. Americans’ electricity usage produces about 9.5 tons of CO2 per person per year, compared to 2.4 tons per person per year in China, 0.6 in India, and 0.1 in Brazil. Average per capita emissions from electricity and heat production in the EU is 3.3 tons per year. Only Australia, at greater than 10 tons per year, emits more power-related emissions per person than the U.S. In many developing countries, per capita power consumption is extremely low, and millions of people lack access to electricity at all." SOURCE: Centre for Global Development

"Earth Hour has almost 5 million supporters and a global network in over 100 countries, it’s one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and build a future where people live in harmony with nature.

In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4000 cities in 88 countries officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative."

So in anyone's terms, Earth Hour, is a success in repeatedly raising global awareness about the emissions problem. The next step is those same supporters influencing political decision makers to make the changes each year to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions.

New economic modelling indicates the world has just five years to initiate a low carbon industrial revolution before runaway climate change becomes almost inevitable.

And what is the WWF trying to achieve?

"WWF-Australia believes that in order to stay below a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise, the Australian Government must implement a national plan to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

This plan must:

* Reduce carbon pollution by at least 25% by 2020 and 90% by 2050;

* Implement an emissions trading scheme operational by mid 2011 at the latest;

* Increase to 40% by 2030 the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and modify it or implement a feed-in-tariff to better support emerging technologies like geothermal, wave and solar thermal;

* Provide a fund to encourage landholders to preserve and grow trees to absorb carbon pollution and protect habitat;

* Implement world's best practice for energy efficiency and vehicle emission standards;

* Ensure two to three carbon capture and storage commercial projects are operational by 2015 and that no new coal-fired power stations are built unless they undertake carbon capture and storage; and

* Build on Copenhagen Accord to deliver a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement in Mexico in 2010."SOURCE: WWF on Climate Change

Meanwhile, on the Friday before Earth Hour I gaze out of the window from a 17th floor Sydney office building and see today another clear blue sky. But at the horizon blanketing Sydney’s suburbs rests a brown murky haze that is pollution from road transport and industry. It happens every day in every city around the globe. Like smoking over a lifetime, the combined effect of those thousands and thousands of repeated days of brown murky haze in every city are taking their toll on the health of the planet.

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There is a debate in the environment movement about whether or not curbing population is an essential part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

November 12 last year the Japanese government had announced that their greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in the year ending March 2008, despite their declining population.

From 1990 to 2004, the Cuban population grew by about 1 million or 8.5%. For the same period, total carbon dioxide emissions fell from 32 million tones to 25.8 million tones; a 19.4%.

This slim evidence is supposed to "delink" population growth from greenhouse gas emissions!

Japan has a technological and manufacturing based economy. Cuba's growing population have a simple lifestyle plus part of the reduction is the direct consequence of burning less fossil oils to produce energy, a goal achieved due to the replacement of almost 15 million incandescent bulbs for energy-saving lamps, and of old electrical appliances for more efficient ones.

Another part of the reduction refers to the proper handling and storage of the ozone affecting chlorofluorocarbons extracted from the close to 3 million air conditioners and refrigerators replaced.

Even though individual numbers of people don't exactly positively correlate with greenhouse gas emission levels in each country, the evidence can't be dismissed that overall the impacts of swelling human numbers increases greenhouse emissions.

While Earth Hours' cause is a noble one, while our Governments are addicted to growth and mass markets and consumerism, the small amount individuals can do is being further diminished by outside commercial forces.

The underlying message of Earth hour seems to be that individuals with resolve can collectively make a difference and that it is up to "us". I think this is unrealistic. The demands of our lives, if we function within the moving components of a large modern city will overwhelm the desires of most of us to tread more lightly on the environment. Outside of Earth Hour for example , a V.C.E. student with all the deadlines this entails can only with great difficulty decide to halve the time s/he uses electricity. Her parents who need to get to work across the city dealing with limited public transport are forced into their cars. Busy two income families are time poor and are, if not actually forced, they are funneled into supermarkets to buy food produced in environmentally unfriendly ways and transported long distances. I see these people - that is most of us- as trapped unless they do the near impossible, opt out of contemporary life and make it their primary purpose to live independently of it.

Of course our society could function quite differently and we could have lower carbon emissions. However, presently,as populations in the major cities of Australia expand, our Greenhouse Gas emissions increase in proportion. Rapid population growth pushes us in the wrong direction whilst compounding the issue, insane types of urban and suburban development take us further and further away from a sustainable ideal with over sized ill adapted and designed houses on minimal treeless blocks. There seems little opportunity in the current scheme for individuals to make much difference. A systemic new direction and ethos is needed.

Reducing personal consumption would make a trivial impact on what is decisive:TOTAL consumption. According to Derrick Jensen "green living" would reduce America's consumption by just 22 percent. But with the growth economy still in place, population and economic growth would quickly pick up that slack. We cannot avoid a train wreck. We are due for a collapse of unimaginable proportions. NOTHING will stop that. Get real. There will be no soft landings, no world government, no significant changes in government policies or political direction in enough time to prevent catastrophe. So the question is, when do you want that collapse to occur--sooner, or later?

The longer this growth-economy lives, the more of our life-support system will be destroyed, making the prospects of the rump core of humanity that emerges from the rubble even slimmer. As each day passes, at least 100 species dies. Want to kill them all off? Then help to keep the system going. Practice your green feel-good boy scout habits now. Eat vegan. Take a bicycle, separate your garbage, take fewer showers. And conserve energy so that the system has more slack to work with and can grow even more. Alternatively, you can practice brown living to STRESS the system for more immediate collapse. Not something I want to personally experience, but in my judgment, that would be the ethical course.

Today I did two things. I turned every damn light on in the house that I could. Then I photocopied ten OPT leaflets that demonstrated that condoms were the most cost effective energy-saver on record, and posted them in the local village. I logged a lifetime of "Earth Hours" by not siring any children. There is NOTHING, repeat NOTHING that I could do with CFL lights, or hybrid cars or solar panels which could offset the ecological damage that David Suzuki, who lives but 6 miles down the road from me, has inflicted upon the world with his five children. And the local Green Party candidate, BTW, has two far. Keep in mind, there are 30,000 children in Canada who languish in orphanages or foster homes vainly awaiting placement with permanent families. But these hypocritical green robotic replicators simply must have kids with the same pair of eyes or ears as they have---unless of course they are Haitian, then brownie points can be made showcasing them around the community. Additionally, every one of them I can think of takes an annual trip to Mexico, Bali or other exotic vacation, not by canoe, kayak or sailing ship, but by jetplane. If I stopped driving my car for one whole year, that sacrifice would be wiped out by one flight from Vancouver to Caracas by just one of these self-righteous myopics.

We have been around the block with this discussion before. No minds will be changed. Do your thing. Turn off your lights, wear sack cloth, walk barefoot on glass, whip your back---whatever turns your crank. By all means, feel good about "doing your part". But while you're at it, get a vascetomy will you?

Re: Vivienne, 'Government policies are contrary to the ideals of Earth Hour'

Earth Hour is simply one strategy to remind people and business and government of the problems of the unsustainable level of damaging resource and energy usage and the polluting emissions being caused.

Yes, curbing population is an essential part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because more people cause more demand for energy and resources.

The per capita usage test is just as valid a focus as the gross usage. Consumerism is the rate of usage. Australia is one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world. Queensland housing development in its south east sprawl is characterised by high use of air conditioners and cars.

Meanwhile, the NSW Labor Government while supporting turning off the lights on Sydney Harbour Bridge for Earth Hour, same day (Saturday 27th March 2010) announced 'Sydney’s Biggest Residential Development Gets Underway' with major civil works beginning at Oran Park in Sydney's outer south-west.

"The Precinct will include around 7,500 homes, a seniors living village and aged care facility for up to 400 residents, and a 30-hectare Town Centre."

But no public transport, no train line, just more roads. So more airconditioners and more cars. And NSW Premier Keneally believes "Oran Park Town is an excellent example of...sustainable development." This is the consequence of Rudd's Big Australia fettish.

Progressing from Earth Hour and from the WWF Plan to reduce emissions, individuals should start with finding ways to address just three items in the WWF Plan, namely:

1. Reduce carbon pollution by at least 25% - sell the air conditioner, lawn mower and second car

2. Preserve and grow trees to absorb carbon pollution and protect habitat - plant six trees on your property

3. Don't vote for governments that support new coal-fired power stations i.e don't vote Liberal and Labor

If each household in Australia did just these three things in 2010, the targets would be reached for those individuals.

Yes, Vivienne, a systemic new direction and ethos is needed. Time to watch Tasmania for leadership, with the Greens now holding the balance of power.


Re: Tim, 'Earth Hour-- a noble, or a counter-productive cause?'

Yes, economic growth needs to be questioned as a goal. What is the alternative?

Species extinction is just as unacceptable as genocide and the holocaust

Changing personal consumerism is a start - reducing consumtion of red meat, car usage, waste disposal, water and energy usages, limiting families to two children.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885