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Grant McDermott

Data. Economics. Environment.

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In the build up to this year's Earth Hour, humourless critics were once again up in arms about the fact that turning off the lights for one hour would have a negligible effect on energy consumption.

Yes, because symbolic acts should be seen as outright solutions, rather than symbolizing representing solidarity with some wider issue. You know, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos thought that the solution to racial discrimination would be for everyone to walk around with an upraised fist.

Sounds to me like a lot of people could use a course in symbology.



That said, there are reasons to be critical of Earth Hour and, indeed, question the symbolic message that it does send. In that light, one of the better "contrarian" takes that I've read lately comes from Robin Mills, who argues that good intentions are undermined by a misguided signals:
Of course, improved energy efficiency is vital. The confusion is between conservation \(-\) doing less \(-\) and efficiency \(-\) doing more with less. 

[snip] 

Environmentalism should not be about less \(-\) it is about more: energy that is more abundant, cleaner, cheaper, more secure; economies that grow faster with new technologies; more people escaping poverty. 

Darkness spreading across the planet should not be the aim of environmental campaigns \(-\) it should be a symbol of what happens when energy and environmental policy fails.
Environmental organisations like the WWF (or any advocacy group for that matter) need to think hard about the broader associations that come with their campaign messages. Concern about the planet's well-being is clearly laudable, but they will lose this fight if their cause becomes associated with privation.