The point of Earth Hour is community engagement. Turning our lights off for an hour does nothing in terms of stopping climate change. It is, however, a way of engaging people in a symbolic action , encourages media coverage and promotes discussion. In Newcastle the Herald had numerous articles in the lead up to Earth Hour (including a great interview with Will who has just stepped down as convener of Transition Newcastle) and there was quite a bit on NBN TV and local ABC radio.
My problem is that so many of the suggestions for how we can address climate change are almost window dressing. On the next page to the interview with Will, there were “60 ways to save the planet.” These included:
- Turn off lights when leaving the office or install motion-sensor lighting.
- Turn off printers, computers , monitors, microwaves and coffee machines at the power points at the end of the day.
- Stop the delivery of junk mail or catalogues.
- Install energy-saving (compact flourescent) lightbulbs and devices including timers.
- Walk, ride a bike, take public transport or carpool.
I think they are all great suggestions, but they aren’t really going to save the planet are they?
We need to think a bit bigger. Here are a few suggestions for some other actions (but even these feel a bit inadequate):
- Accept that our standard of living unsustainable and needs to change. This doesn’t mean that our quality of life needs to decrease. I know it is a bit of a cliché, but it is a great opportunity to focus on building our quality of life rather than our standard of living.
- Realise that economic growth does not equal happiness or contentment.
- Recognise the limits of growth and overcome our growth fetish.
- Stop buying stuff. We buy so much stuff we really don’t need (especially for our children) and doesn’t improve the quality of our lives.
- Start living in smaller houses with multi-use spaces. Do we really need three bathrooms, a media room and a parent retreat?
- Dramatically increase local food production and buy local where ever we can.
- Start comparing ourselves with people who are “worse off” than us rather than those who are “better off” than us. There are always people who earn more than us or have more than us so the bar keeps getting raised higher.
- Really question the need for overseas and interstate travel.
- Find people in our local neighbourhood who are passionate about climate change and work with them to build strong resilient local communities. There are some great examples of neighbourhoods and streets sharing resources and supporting each other in making positive change.
- Make sustainability a priority for our spending, behaviour and life style.
These are really just a start, but they are still quite challenging. I should say that I don’t find them easy and I increasingly recognise the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who are trying to move in the same direction so that we have support.
In the end it is so important to see Earth Hour as a community engagement and not as a solution.