Earth Hour: Nothing but tokenism?

Earth Hour: Nothing but tokenism?

Earth Hour, an initiative that encourages people around the world to turn off their lights between 8:30-9:30PM on 27 March to raise awareness about climate change, has been the WWF or World Wildlife Fund’s pet project for the last few weeks.

In India, the initiative has garnered a fair amount of attention, with over one million people signing up to pledge support on the Earth Hour website. In Delhi, chief minister Sheila Dikshit and actor Abhishek Bachchan have publicly declared their support for the campaign.

Initially conceived of in 2007 in Australia, Earth Hour has now become an annual, global initiative. India first participated last year, when Delhi and Mumbai formally pledged to be involved. This year, along with Delhi and Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata are all participating.

The one hour of “lights off" does amount to a considerable amount of energy saved--WWF says that one hour saved India 1000MW last year—however, one has to wonder about the event’s significance in the grand scheme of things.

For one thing, while the WWF does have several programmes aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change, it does not yet have a sustained grassroots campaign that raises awareness about climate change issues year round. So far it has relied on a one hour, once a year campaign, which has not produced any measurable impact in terms of changing long-term behavior patterns.

“We’re not trying to say that in one hour on one day we will make a lot of difference," says Bhavna Mathur, who is working as a Consultant to WWF India on the Earth Hour initiative. “The main message is that people can do something to address climate change by something as simple as switching off the lights."

While its efforts are laudable, the fact remains that as the world’s leading conservation organization, the WWF should be doing far more to raise awareness about climate change.

“The climate change crisis is political in nature but Earth Hour is constructed like a carnival or a festival," says Pradip Saha, associate director the New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment. While Saha acknowledges that any effort towards raising awareness about the crisis is a step in the right direction, he maintains that the outcomes of Earth Hour are not commensurate with the money and effort being poured into the initiative. “Between last year’s Earth Hour and this year’s Earth Hour I haven’t seen anything," he says referring to the lack of any sustained awareness about climate change.

The hope is that after tomorrow, with Earth Hour 2010 out of the way, the WWF will go about constructing more relevant programmes that have the potential to engage with audiences, change attitudes and influence consumption patterns on a more sustained basis.