Earth hour 2017: Is just one hour enough?

On March 25, we’ll be turning off our lights from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. But to save the planet what we really need is a change of heart. Peter Sherwood reports.

If I stopped to consider our every act of destruction of the planet, of each other, of animal and plant species, I’d be crazier than a hyena on heroin. And if what I have to say appears paradoxically normal, it’s because it sadly is. 

For Earth Hour last year, I was in Tsim Sha Tsui looking at the harbour lights and thinking about the appalling waste of energy, when a tourist official sidled up. Well, not so much sidled as imposed her diminutive presence to enlighten me: “Excuse me, but the laser light show tonight has been postponed until 9.45pm because of Earth Hour.” She then proceeded to walk around repeating her rehearsed idiocy to the awed gathering. 

Let me explain. Critics of Earth Hour, along with the Hong Kong Tourist Association, miss the point, and the point is to mark an internationally observed ‘time out’. We are asked to stop and think about the vast and potentially life-threatening growth of CO2 in our atmosphere. We are asked to focus on saving energy and finding pollution-free ways to produce it.

Does Earth Hour achieve anything? Most of us take note of the one hour a year and then get straight back to the status quo. Computers, for example, which were predicted to save vast amounts of greenhouse gases, are now responsible for more CO2 than all commercial aircraft. But we are constantly ‘plugged in’ and we continue to fly gratuitously because it’s cheap. We’re wasteful because we can be. We don’t count the cost, and because if you don’t bother, why should I?

 A light bulb moment 

This brings me to Easter Island, a few thousand kilometres from the nearest continental land mass. Has Peter finally gone mad, you ask? Bear with me. For centuries Easter Islanders lived precisely as we primitive mammals always have. Like us they were in fierce competition – religion against religion, tribe against tribe. Territorial fights focused on the mindless construction of huge stone statues, and the even more mindless destruction of the natural habitat. 

The population’s decline (from 15,000 in the 1600s to just 2,000 acentury later, and only an estimated 5,800 today) is instructional. It seems clear that only a change of consciousness can save the rest of us from the very same fate. 

The last coconut tree on Easter Island (a food source, a nesting place for seabirds – another food source – and the material to make fishing rafts) was chopped down with the same greedy philosophy that exists in the world today – if I don’t take it, you will. 

Back to Hong Kong and postponing a wasteful light show by an hour. Is this absurd, or is it just me?


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 18 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


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