The lights going off at 8pm on Saturday 28th March wasn’t the return of a Labour government, nor the solar eclipse, which holds the record number of people simultaneously NOT looking at their smart phones, but Earth Hour. Most people took this news with the vague shock of someone unexpectedly struggling to swallow a vitamin pill, but it was established in 2007, to raise awareness to the need for sustainable energy; to remind people that when they switch their lights on someone somewhere mines coal, creates nuclear waste or charges anti-fracking protestors.
As a country complaining of energy bills and saying ‘it’s freezing’ before November, expiring adjectives before layers, it’s unlikely that the UK took Earth Hour as seriously as the Philippines, who organised a glow-in-the-dark Zumba party. With most UK homes competing with Kew garden’s glasshouses, the most effective intervention by politicians to reduce bills would be to turn individual thermostats down; after all, if the threat of a party leader visiting won’t do it then nothing will.
Increased awareness of energy consumption is a good thing. HSBC declared they would respect Earth hour by turning the lights off in their offices, at 8pm on Saturday night. What the hell were they doing on in the first place? Presumably they’re kept on all year round in order to demonstrate HSBC’s commitment to Earth Hour by turning them off for the hour
Of course electricity has transformed our lives, which sounds like the punch-line to every power station in-joke, and means we can bathe daily, blend kale & ginger smoothies effortlessly, and read well past our bed time. To go without it for an hour has to be a good thing.
However, not everyone got involved. In Paris, due to security reasons, the Eiffel Tower went black for only five minutes, presumably to prevent too many people from walking into it, while in Singapore, all Earth Hour events were cancelled following the death of their founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, because nothing detracts from mourning like dimmed lights.
Electricity is taken for granted. Yet while our countryside becomes increasingly industrialised by wind farms that make more money for landowners than electricity, and coal emits 10 billion tonnes of Co2 a year, if consumers cannot take responsibility, then perhaps power companies could take the initiative. Like pulling the plug when we least expect it. Perhaps on Friday night, silencing hairdryers across the land, or for an hour during NFL’s Super Bowl, which appears to exist purely to annoy anyone who isn’t American. It really needs to be long enough for phone batteries to drain of power, than the stark reality of, well, reality, will bite hardest. After all, according to Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, there are now only two states for children: ‘asleep or online’, making them sound like robots, which anyone who’s met a teenage girl will readily agree with.
We’re disconnected from where the mains into our houses began, and groping around in the dark for an hour might sound fun, but it’s what humans had no choice about until 60 odd years ago. Renewables are commendable, yet there’s no palatable method of energy production, not to meet the demand; with the rate of population growth we need to ration our electricity use, and find the off switch as readily as we found the on.