Environmentalists think their battles are those of good versus evil intentions. But Earth Hour, when spots around the globe went dark for 60 minutes this weekend to call for action against climate change, seemed more like hope versus reality.
We admire the commitment of well-meaning individuals who believe reducing their carbon footprints will help. But does their symbolism work for the rest of humankind that responds to regular incentives?
In this case, the footprint only matters if less power is generated. Those who switch off their lights—Mumbai, for instance, “saved” 65MW—can claim to have consumed that much less. But that quantum of electricity, which can’t be stored, just gets rerouted to be consumed elsewhere.
What does work are changes enforced by governments across the board—removing subsidies or raising taxes—that affect consumption and production in the long term, and not small one-time volunteer efforts.
And this isn’t the only reality symbolism runs up against. This Saturday, in India at least, it surely encountered the difficulty of first getting people to turn away from IPL.