Letter to the Editor: Forget Earth Hour – Earth Week is what we need

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The event known as Earth Hour has just occurred. For one whole hour, this past March 25th from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, everyone was encouraged to eschew electrical lighting. As so we didn’t miss it, nor fail to comprehend its importance, Bridget Oland recently wrote about Earth Hour in the March 17th edition of the Kennebecasis Valley’s KV Style. Check it out, it’s on page 10.

Oland outlines briefly the history of the event, and how its purpose is to draw attention to how our energy use impacts climate change. For the first Earth Hour in 2007 she writes “ …..a 10 per cent reduction in power drawn on the grid (which) prevented 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission.” Still further on she writes, “Earth Hour is one of those great acts of global solidarity that anyone can take part in. I love how it empowers people (especially children) to be part of something that actually makes a difference. Celebrating in the dark is a thought-provoking way to ignite change by getting people to think about their impact on the planet. And it gives kids a tangible example of how their everyday activities can affect the planet.”

How can you and I celebrate this great hour of darkness in the future? Oland offers a few suggestions, including sharing a candlelit meal with family and friends, sit by a fire and chat, bundle up and go for a walk, ……to stargaze.

What a virtuous event. I couldn’t wait.

But hold it – let’s do wait just a second. I want you to think about what children will actually learn from Earth Hour and Bridget Oland.

This is the message being sent. That a turned off light is better than a light turned on. And why is that true? We humans are destroying the environment with our technology.

Earth Hour does a good job sending that message. Lights out for one hour is really no sacrifice – kids find an hour in the dark fun, as they would with the games and activities surrounding the event. This non sacrifice, however, is used to draw our attention to the much bigger issue of climate change and, more specifically, that the obvious evils of climate change would be reduced if our energy consumption was reduced. Earth Hour implies that, with little inconvenience to us, great environmental change is achievable. It is a subtle way to tell us and our children that we are bad people for turning on a light, and by extension using many manmade inventions.

It is absolutely true that a turned out light burns no energy, and this is good in a way because most lights require electricity, which costs money. And money is limited for all families. But in the same way that an empty glass contains no water, even very young children can easily understand the difference between a light on and a light off. No Earth Hour event is really needed for this lesson. There is, however, good education here if a little extra work is completed: point out to children (and grown-ups) that a regular 60 watt light bulb costs less than one penny to run for one hour, and that, for comparison, one typical hot bath cost about 25 cents. Another good conversation surrounds why candlelight is apparently better than electrically generated light. Is it better?

It is unfortunate that Earth Hour and Oland have decided to connect the event to a complicated and relentless process; a process that if accepted as purely a human engineered problem is non-solvable.

For the sake of our children’s education, I encourage everyone to consider the concept of an Earth Week, where, for one week, we all eliminate completely, not just lights, but all electrical usage. Set aside a week in January so that the reality of the request is not missed at all.

With no computer, no cell phone, no television, no radio, no microwave, no refrigerator, no GPS, continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

As your house goes from cool to cold to freezing, and they begin to shiver, continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

Night after night, as you stumble in the dark, and only achieve useful work and playful activities in the daylight hours, continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

At the end of a 5 kilometer winter trek to retrieve water from the nearest river – with frozen hands and frozen toes – continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

In response to learning about a family that lost a home to fire – a candle fell over – continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

As your child is transported 30km to a hospital by donkey, guided by candle light (no evil electrically enabled ambulances for us mister), and as the pain goes on longer, continue to tell your children about the evils of the human mind, and its inventions. Tell them that this is a sacrifice for the environment.

Philip Backman
Department of Physics
UNB Saint John