Saturday 26 March 2011

Earth Hour: An hour long energy waste

Tokyo sits in darkness during a rolling blackout /

15 minutes until Earth Hour here in Edmonton Alberta and I for one will not be turning out my lights or avoiding the use of electricity. Probably an odd statement coming from me for those who know me or read this blog. But why? You might be asking, isn't the reduction in power usage what you advocate? And indeed it is what I advocate, so please let me explain.

Earth Hour is an interesting phenomenon, according to their website:

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries/territories participating. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.
Climate change is what they are standing up against, not oil consumption, or the debt based infinite growth economy. Seems like a good cause anyway though right? I mean who doesn't want to help the planet? Who wants more extreme weather? Certainly not me, I can't stand the Canadian cold as it is.

My main question though of course is: how exactly does turning off the lights for an hour stand up to climate change? At the end of this hour we all know you are going to turn the lights back on, unlike the Japanese shown above who have been forced to have rolling "earth hours" for 6-8 hours at a time.

Here's the big fact that opposses the climate change philosophy of earth hour: power plants are still producing the same amount of power. Just because you are not using this energy, does not mean it is not being generated and essentially wasted. Power plants can not simply ramp up or down the amount of generating capacity at a whim. Power production relies heavily on anticipated usage so that they can ensure that the proper amount of power is being generated at any given time to meet demand without too much waste. What do you think an event like earth hour does to the anticipatory abilities of this power production? Well because it is voluntary it is therefore unpredictable. It is not known how many people will or will not be using power, and the hour long duration doesn't offer enough time to bother adjusting power output.

So, because you are not using power, is that power being saved? No, in fact its being wasted. Earth Hour wastes power, and all for some irrelevant symbology to appease our guilty earth destroying consciousness. We will produce excess energy for this hour all so that we can feel as though we are not wasting any.

So I will not be participating, and I hope you don't either. Proudly use the power being generated, because it will be generated regardless of whether you decide to use it or not. Earth Hour is the illusion of change, without having to change anything. Earth Hour should really be called "Us Hour", because truthfully it is all about our feelings about power usage and has little or nothing to do with genuine concern for the Earth or any sort of lasting change.

Update & note: For those who say "Earth Hour" is about raising awareness about climate change or energy consumption; consider that using this sort of logic that "wasting it shows you want to conserve it", it would then make sense to go around burning the money in your wallet. Not spending it, but literally lighting it on fire in waste. Under the logic of earth hour this should help raise awareness that saving money is a good idea.... Yea, it doesn't make sense to me either.


  1. well, although you raise some valid points, i quite disagree with the notion that Earth Hour is a wasted effort

    first, as people go around their house, consciously switching off lights and other electrical devices, it makes them reflect on energy usage in general.. and likely leads to many people choosing to do this on a regular basis.

    for example, does that PVR really need to be left on 24 h/day? maybe low-energy night lights could be installed in more rooms, and main lights could be turned off for longer periods.

    second, electrical companies and gov'ts could monitor the drop in electrical demand for that hour, and use it as an indication for the level of support for energy conservation. a cheap way to survey the masses


  2. Government's do monitor the drop in energy usage.

    Here is the problem with your general hypothesis, it's called "Jevon's Paradox":

    "In economics, the Jevons paradox (pronunciation: /ˈdʒɛvənz/; sometimes Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.[1] In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal use led to increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.[2]

    The issue has been re-examined by modern economists studying consumption rebound effects from improved energy efficiency. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given use, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which tends to increase the quantity of the resource demanded, potentially counteracting any savings from increased efficiency. Additionally, increased efficiency accelerates economic growth, further increasing the demand for resources. The Jevons paradox occurs when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing resource use to increase.[2]

    The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation may be futile, as increased efficiency may increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax or other conservation policies that keep the cost of use the same (or higher).[3] As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the paradox."

    Jevon's Paradox applies here because what you are essentially advocating is voluntary added efficiency. The problem this presents is that the excess energy is bound to be simply used by someone else especially because lower demand results in cheaper energy prices.

    Your theory would work if the global economy was not based on exponential growth, but since it is any extra energy capacity will simply be consumed elsewhere to facilitate growth.