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About the Author

Daniel Nylin Nilsson
Teacher (Lund, Sweden)

I am a dyed-in-the-wool blogger from Sweden, with a few years of experience from Southeastern Europe. I have no journalistic training per se, but on the other hand blogging for me has as much to do with creative writing as it has to do with journalism. I love to write, but live from other things, like care-taking, teaching, translating etc. And maybe this is the way I want it - as a blogger nothing is more dear to me than my independence.

Post

Earth Hour - How my accordion saved the world

Published 30th March 2010 - 10 comments - 3015 views -

On the 27 of March, Earth Hour, an initiative from the WWF, was commemorated around the globe. Public institutions and individuals turned out their lights during one hour to demonstrate their willingness to deal with climate change, at leaste that's the way that the WWF motivates the Earth Hour campaign on their homepage.

Credit: (cc) Earth Hour Global

Yes, I did spend one hour alone in the darkness on Saturday night. Tragic? Not if you have an accordion at hand. I also took a walk around outside to see how my neighbours responded to the call, which they did not really do. In one window I saw the lights being turned out, though. Earth Hour? I don't know.

Darkness is somehow good for your thinking. Maybe because your mind must provide the enlightenment that we ususally borrow from lamps. I was thinking about poverty and development. Everything develops, but not all development is progress. When you hold an accordion in your hands, that is like a monument of how much more energy-intensive our life style is now, compared to those days when humans could actually throw a party without fossile fuels. An accordion is an entire sound system, that runs on nothing but a small input of human power, and intelligent mechanics. It is true that more people can feed and educate themselves in these time of discos, dancehalls and rock concerts. But the key question for humanity is how to feed and educate ourselves without wasting our resources.

And poverty... it is probably true that more individuals than ever live enjoyable lives. I am not protesting against that, only wondering how we can make progress sustainable. If we define wealth as the known resources you can spend in the future, rather than the money you are currently spending, the world is a poorer place than ever. After centuries of exploitation, the resources we hand over to future generations is considerably smaller than the resources we inherited. Like the oil, that we managed to finish in a little more than a hundered years.

Of course. Earth Hour will not change things any time soon. The exact hours - between 20.30 and 21.30 local time on a Saturday night, are not exactly designed to save as much energy as possible. They are rather chosen to disrupt business as usual as little as possible. Noone thinks that the energy saved during Earth Hour makes any difference - the question is if the demonstration has any impact on people's thinking.

Earth Hour was in deed being critizised in Swedish press and bloggosphere. Birger Schlaug, a green ex-politician denounced the initiative as a way for consumers to clear their counsciusness while planning their next trip to Thailand. This is a valid point of course - but I still think that a consumer who turns out the lights during Earth Hour has begun to think things over. That is maybe insignificant, but not bad. Initiatives appealing to our ethics, be it Earth Hour or calls for helping Haiti, always risk to become a way to sooth our conscousness. The indifference in Western media towards the problems in the developing world has already been discussed on this platform - maybe one reason for this indifference is that many people in the West have already contributed theri 20$ to helping Haiti and have now cleared their conscience?

In this sense, I can not see why Earth Hour sould be worse than any anything else, like buying Fair Trade coffee or wearing T-shirts with prints about global solidarity and environmental responsibility. The most conscience-soothing thing of all might be blogging. Blogging can be a way to keep a lazy conscience clear. But still we blog, and still we should.

The cynics would now point out that 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity, and thus have no lights to turn out on Earth Hour. The whole thing is really a game for rich kids with a soar consciense. One Swedish thinker propagating this view was Johan Norberg. According to Norberg, electrical light is fundamentally a good thing. The world, especially the part that is still developing, needs more of it, not less.

This is a simplified truth, but Norberg completely misunderstands the point of the Eart Hour initiative. No one at the WWF, thinks that electric light is a bad thing in itself. The environmentalists that are hardcore enough to adopt such a view are probably among those who think that Earth Hour is a nasty commercial stunt. Eart Hour is not about avoiding, but about valuing electrical light. Jews eat unleavened bread for Easter, but not because they don't like yeast, but to remind them not to take yeast for granted. This is what we must also learn - that the resources we consume are not endless, and should never be taken for granted.

At the moment, the developing world is paying for our over consumption with climate change, health risks and disrespect for trade unions and human rights. As always, the poor are hardest hit, and women harder than men. Men like Johan Norberg or myself don't feel the bite at all.

Of course those 1.6 Bn people deserve electricity as much as I do. But how will they get it? Norbergs suggestion would be to increase consumption and the exchange of goods. That way rich and poor alike improve their lot, and we would quickly achieve the UN's Millenium Development Goals, just like the rising Chinese and Indian GDP numbers has lifted millions out of poverty. This view is politically easy to defend, but is simply a pyramide game in a world of ending resources. Any progress that is not environmentally sustainable, is a waste of time and resources, just as we have learned not to waste time on projects that are not financially viable.

Environmental sustainability is listed as number seven among the UN's Millenium development goals, even though it is the very foundation for continued human activities on this planet. I can see a real danger in striving to develop countries, and pushing environmental sustainability to the future. This would likely create as many problems as it solves. A suggestion is to add a caption to the Development Goals that they should be attained in 2015, without increasing the global use of energy and resources. That could either be achieved by the north consuming much less and the south a little more, or by finding smart solutions that bring sustainable development. Maybe something to discuss in New York in September?

The only endless things in this world are love and dreams. Hatred and disappointments fade and dry out - so do fossile fuels and natural resources. Earth Hour is maybe pointless, but it could also be a way to remind us that all the resources we use are borrowed from the future, or actually, from some people's present. In any case... an hour spent with an accordion can never be a bad.


This was my take on Earth Hour. I hope you didn't miss Hemant's, Lara's and Muusa's posts on the same topic.

Both Schlaug and Norberg are among the most important Swedish commentators on global issues. If you are a foreigner who masters Swedish language, don't miss their blogs! Norberg also posts in English.

 


Category: Environment | Tags: sweden, wwf, earth hour,


Comments

  • Sylwia Presley on 30th March 2010:

    I love this post. I personally do not think Earth Hours is pointless, as it raises awareness of all the issues you are posting about and as it reaches mass media it increases chances for practical solution. I think it is a great movement of people who decide to act - and the more I look around the less I see of it. It’s a simple statement and even if not measurable, it shows at least that we can unite in simple statement: we care!


  • Sholpan Gabbassova on 30th March 2010:

    I really enjoyed this post! Me myself took part in Earth Hour campaign but none of my neighbours didn’t. During that hour without electricity it felt really funny because I understood that my action couldn’t change or make happen anything, and I looked like a fool sitting alone with candles (it was raining in my hometown and I couldn’t go out for a demonstrational action with my friends as we planned it). But after your post I realize that I’ve gained something from that hour with candles, and this “something” means a lot at least for me. Thank you.


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 30th March 2010:

    Thanks for your comments smile

    @Sylwia I also think that Earth Hour raises quite some attention, especially among people who are not already thinking about climate change, as it is discussed in TV shows, magazines etc. that usually don’t care much about climate change.

    @Sholpan I had somehow the same feeling… there were some arrangements in the center of our city, but I was at home in another part. It is so easy to feel like a fool, even when you do the right thing smile


  • Sylwia Presley on 30th March 2010:

    It is interesting you are both mentioning the feeling of isolation with involvement in Earth Hour. I must admit I was in the middle of flat move, so I missed out on the event, however I did not even have the energy not idea to involve more people in it - I know, not an easy thing to admit!:/ But reading your points I start to realize that one solution to your feelings could have been - potentially - involving your communities to join or maybe organize an event around the campaign?


  • Sylwia Presley on 31st March 2010:

    Just came across those photos - http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/03/earth_hour_2010.html


  • Daniel on 31st March 2010:

    Thanks, Sylwia smile Awesome shots!


  • Adela on 03rd April 2010:

    Darkness is not only good for thinking, but it also allows people to go back to their roots and ... who knows?! ... maybe rediscover the real priorities.

    Great post, Daniel!


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 15th April 2010:

    I agree Daniel the actions of consumers and businesses who turned off the lights during Earth hour meant something. Definitely a first step.


  • Carmen Paun on 11th May 2010:

    I loved your post, Daniel. I got the chance to read it only now. I like how you focus so much on the limit of resources when you address the issue of climate change.  From my point of view, climate change is too broadly used and understood.
    I think it all revolves around the limitation of the resources we have used until now. I do believe human beings have been contributing, through their activities, to influence the process of the climate change. Nonetheless, I think this would have still happened, with or without us. Of course, we made it happen faster and more dramatically. But I do remember I learnt in my geography lessons in middle school how climate had changed before humans were even able to produce fire. And I think we are naive if we think we can stop climate change now. It is way too late for that. What we need to do is to adapt and to find those new resources that will keep our lights on.


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks, Carmen. It is true that climate changes also without human interference, but how much? Maybe it is really too late to do something about it now - but it sounds scary. ARe we really prepared for that?


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