Powering some change better than none at all

OPINION: The world’s carbon emissions continue to increase as environmental groups such as Earth Hour work to raise awareness and reduce energy consumption. However, with governments, businesses and ordinary people often reluctant to change, are they fighting a losing battle?

Sydney Harbour during Earth Hour in 2010. Credit: Sewell/WWF
Sydney Harbour during Earth Hour in 2010. Credit: Sewell/WWF

The amount of carbon Australians emit today has more than doubled since the 1990s, and judging by our way of life it looks like the amount of carbon we emit is unlikely to halt anytime soon. Meanwhile, as countries such as India and China rapidly develop their economies and rightly seek the same living standards as those in the developed world, their carbon footprint also increases.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report highlights the Asia-Pacific alone is expected to contribute approximately 45 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2030. This rise in the undeveloped world must be met with economic assistance from more wealthy countries such as Australia, where governments should work collaboratively to support ‘green’ initiatives that will significantly reduce emissions.

However, it’s very difficult for an Australian politician to tell a leader of another country what to do, especially when our track record of tackling our own emissions has been rather woeful. We can’t possibly advise poorer countries to significantly cut carbon emissions when both of our major federal parties agree on a five percent reduction (from 2000 levels) of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Such a proposal is disappointing, considering an Australian not-for-profit group has gained widespread support for its Zero Carbon Australia strategy that details how to make Australia 100 percent powered by renewable energy within a decade. The researchers demonstrated that it’s scientifically and economically feasible.

You only need to look at Rudd’s failed attempt to get an emissions trading scheme up and running and Gillard’s watered-down carbon tax to realise our politicians too often bow to the pressure by big corporations.

Instead, environmental groups are the ones predominantly driving change, with Earth Hour proving that ordinary people throughout the world still haven’t given up hope of achieving an environmentally-friendly global community.

In 2013, Australia’s Sydney Opera House, along with other global landmarks such as The Tokyo Tour, Eiffel Tower, Niagra Falls and Buckingham Palace switched off their lights for Earth Hour. It’s a symbolic action that many hope will bring energy consumption to the forefront of public consciousness.

To date, Earth Hour has succeeded in making ordinary people stop and think – at least once a year – about their energy consumption. Earth Hour 2013 saw hundreds of millions of people turn their lights off, with the campaign citing it’s biggest growth since 2009.

Earth Hour started in Syndey, Australia in 2007, where WWF-Australia managed to convince 2.2 million Sydneysiders and 2000 businesses to go dark during the first Earth Hour event. Now it has transformed into a worldwide movement, with more than 150 counties now taking part in the annual global event.

“Earth Hour started right here in Australia, in one city, with one idea. Now it has been embraced by the world,” CEO of WWF-Australia Dermot O’Gorman says.

“Earth Hour enables millions of people to connect across cultures and borders, show we care about our environment and commit to meaningful actions for our planet.”

This year was the sixth time Australian resident Charlotte Aberdour turned off her lights for Earth Hour.

The environmentally-conscious 21-year-old and ten of her friends spent Earth Hour outdoors at the scenic Hopkins River in Warrnambool, where they played card games over dinner.

She says the event has inspired her to spread awareness about energy conservation among family and friends who know little about the issue.

“Every step towards protecting the environment and its future helps,” Charlotte said.

“The night is always a load of fun and you get to be involved in conversations about climate change and energy conservation with people who wouldn’t usually discuss it.”

However, the environmental science student said her course had more of an impact on her daily energy conservation efforts than events such as Earth Hour.

Education is key to raising awareness about global warming, and it’s always interesting to hear ordinary folk with little or no knowledge of climate change science state that they don’t believe climate change is happening. In actual fact, climate change is a global phenomenon that the overwhelming majority of reputable climate change scientists say is happening. The effects of global warming are well-documented, with rising sea temperatures threatening to wipe out low-lying countries in the Asia-Pacific and other parts of the world, displacing millions of the world’s poorest people.

Less certain is exactly how rapidly the effects will worsen and the extent to which the damage we have already caused is irreversible, with some parts of the world expected to be affected differently to others. However, what is very certain is that if global warming continues at the current rate, it will lead to the eventual extinction of countless species, destroy natural wonders such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (rising ocean temperatures are already seeing the bleeching of coral along the world-famous reef) and more unpredictable weather events. For those that can’t find it in their heart to care about extinction of animals, consider that more extreme weather events will drive up insurance claims and even threaten human lives in the developed world. It would negatively impact economies so we can expect to see governments (and therefore taxpayers) footing more multi-billion dollar natural disaster bills, as experienced with the 2011 floods in eastern Australia.

Earth Hour has taken part in a number of initiatives globally to translate a symbolic movement into physical action. As part of the 2013 Earth Hour Campaign, it began planting the first Earth Hour Forest in Uganda.

Ugandans planted the first tree in the forest last month, in an attempt to fill the 2700 hectare area with more than 500,000 native trees.

The non-profit organisation described it as an “important first step” in fighting Uganda’s deforestation which claims 6000 hectares of the country’s natural forest every single month.

In the United States, the Save Energy Project saw the cutback of more than 75 million pounds of CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile, 2013 saw Australia reach a milestone, with more than one million households now powered by solar.

Critics may say Earth Hour achieves little because so many people don’t turn off their lights, and those that do will simply turn them on again in an hour. However, instead of focusing on how many lights stay on, we should realise that a campaign that has within a few years gained the attention of millions worldwide and grown into a worldwide movement is a tremendous achievement.

Earth Hour alone can’t change everything. Government support is crucial in getting large-scale environmental projects off the ground and ordinary people are the key to convincing their representatives to do so. However, when the media shines light on the Earth Hour campaign once a year, it raises awareness and causes people to think a little deeper. The more people exposed to the message, the more likely action will follow.

Until a time when more politicians around the world start accepting the science and prioritising the long-term interests of the nation, my message is this:

Anything is better than doing nothing.

Categories: environment, opinion, politicsTags: , , , , , , , ,

Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.


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