“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
Tonight the world will be turning off its lights for an hour, beginning at 8:30 p.m. local time in each time zone. Will you be participating? Since people are beginning to think of me as an environmentalist, I’ve been asked if this modest reduction in emissions will make a difference. (Today’s Barrie Examiner even includes an article where I was interviewed on the subject.)
Since I’m also a cardiologist, I often look to that other facet of my life for analogies that people can relate to. I’m always encouraging my patients who smoke to quit. Most don’t succeed despite appreciating the benefits of quitting because it’s difficult to make that change. But some manage to cut back because of my encouragement. Obviously I’d prefer zero cigarettes smoked per day, but if someone can give me ten a day rather than a full pack, I’ll take it. In other words, I’ll gladly accept any reduction of something harmful if that’s all they can achieve.
Along the same lines, if energy consumption is reduced for one hour and emissions are reduced as a result, I still believe it’s better than nothing. Will it make a difference in the long term if this only happens for one hour once a year? Likely not.
Things brings me to what I think is the most important part of Earth Hour: increased awareness about energy conservation. In Barrie, Ontario where my practice is located, there is an annual Barrie Earth Hour Music Festival to help celebrate the occasion. It takes place from 6:00 to10:30 p.m. and attracts between 3,000 and 4,000 attendees. It provides a free concert held at the Barrie City Hall, uses energy-efficient LED stage lighting, and is powered by electricity from renewable sources.
Each year Barrie has noticed greater reductions in electricity usage during Earth Hour. In 2009 the reduction was 4%, up to 6.8% in 2010. Last year it reached 7.7%, a total of 9.9 megawatts of electricity saved. This indicates that the message is getting across in my home town as it is in many places all over the world, and participation is steadily increasing.
It would be even better if people extended these habits to many of the other 8783 hours throughout 2011. With time I have no doubt that those participating in Earth Hour will think twice about leaving lights on when they leave a room or other examples of wasteful energy use, and with increasing participation even greater reductions in emissions will be achieved.
Earth Hour is all about awareness, and doing your part to make a difference by starting on the smallest scale possible—turning off lights for one hour this evening. It started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and has grown impressively in its first five years. Last year’s event was the largest ever voluntary action for the environment that has ever taken place, and this year’s participation is predicted to be even better. In 2011 a record 5,251 cities and towns in 135 countries and territories participated in all seven continents. It had an estimated reach of 1.8 billion people across the globe. Some of the world’s most recognized landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Golden Gate Bridge, and Sydney Opera House switched off their lights.
Please do your best to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. More importantly, take this participation and pay it forward after 9:30 p.m. this evening.