In the dark

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Did you see anyone taking part in Earth Hour this past Saturday? Probably not, because they were all in the dark.

With the aim of raising global awareness about climate change and the need to save the planet by reducing our carbon emissions, Earth Hour encourages people to turn off their lights and nonessential electricity for one hour on the last Saturday of March.

Although the goals of Earth Hour are admirable, the event does little to raise the kind of awareness it aims for and incorrectly leads people to believe that doing nothing is actually something they can take pride in.

To start, turning off lights during Earth Hour does not even reduce worldwide carbon emissions by a statistically relevant number overall, period. However, many would rightfully argue that this is missing the point.

The end goal of Earth Hour is to promote renewable energy sources, not actually make a significant dent in worldwide carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, the actual event fails to do this. It’s simply too short and requires too little effort from people; they simply shut off their lights and wait. What is more, most people only understand that a straw man version of the concept: “If I turn my light off for one hour, I’m helping to make the world a better place.”

The reason why this kind of lazy activism is so attractive is because it requires little to no effort. People can stop using their lights for a short amount of time and then feel good about the fact that they have helped to raise awareness about the issue.

The nature of Earth Hour makes it a relatively silent event. Yes, there are groups who gather in parks, but for the most part people turn their lights off and essentially spend a bunch of time in the dark. How can we raise awareness if there is literally nothing but darkness and inactivity to attract attention?

I know it’s ridiculous to expect every person in the world to jump off their seats and start combating climate change, but if you are going to be lazy about it, there are more productive ways of sitting on your ass. Signing petitions, pressuring government officials – hell, even joining a Facebook group is more productive than sitting quietly in the dark. I doubt many outsiders woke up Sunday morning and thought, “Holy hell, it was dark between eight and nine last night, I better get my shit together!”

If we want to gain some ground on the issue of carbon emissions, then passive activism in this fashion will not work. At the very least, people need to pressure others who are willing to do something about it to make a move. Earth Hour doesn’t make noise, nor does it turn heads.

In addition, there is no accountability for people to continue reduced energy consumption. Even the people who do turn off their lights eventually go back to their same patterns of usage. Indeed, dozens of reports indicate that energy usage across the world returns to daily averages and remains that way for the rest of the year.

So if Earth Hour can’t even drum up miniscule awareness, and doesn‘t even convince most practitioners to reduce their consumption long term, then why do people become involved in the first place? Because it feels good.

This is the major problem with slacktivism and Earth Hour as a whole. People don’t take part because they are actually willing to get things done; they take part because they want the small emotional benefit that comes from feeling that you are making a difference, without actually having to do any of the dirty work. Then they go back to their heated homes, with their TVs, computers, fridges, stoves, microwaves, internet, CD players, smartphones, etc., feeling good about what they have done.

I want to make this clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something solely because it feels good. That’s 100 per cent OK. Nevertheless, in the words of magician Penn Gillette, “If you want to do something just because it feels good, while being lazy and wasting your time, then perhaps heroin is for you.”

Dietrich Neu
Features Editor

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