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Why Earth Hour Is a Waste of Time and Energy 466

Posted by Soulskill
from the 'like'-this-if-you-want-to-seem-like-you-care-but-are-too-lazy-to-do-anything dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Next Saturday from 8:30PM to 9:30PM EST is 'Earth Hour' (0:30 to 1:30 UTC on Sunday). Millions of people will be participating by shutting off their lights for an hour to show they care about the environment. However, according to this article in Slate, Earth Hour is simply 'vain symbolism,' and it won't actually save any energy — quite the opposite. Quoting: 'Notice that you have not been asked to switch off anything really inconvenient, like your heating or air-conditioning, television, computer, mobile phone, or any of the myriad technologies that depend on affordable, plentiful energy electricity and make modern life possible. If switching off the lights for one hour per year really were beneficial, why would we not do it for the other 8,759? Hypothetically, switching off the lights for an hour would cut CO2 emissions from power plants around the world. But, even if everyone in the entire world cut all residential lighting, and this translated entirely into CO2 reduction, it would be the equivalent of China pausing its CO2 emissions for less than four minutes. In fact, Earth Hour will cause emissions to increase. As the United Kingdom's National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterward.'"
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Why Earth Hour Is a Waste of Time and Energy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:09PM (#43205349)
    Then I'm going to cut down 6 trees and key 4 people's cars.
  • by ganjadude (952775) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:14PM (#43205409) Homepage
    is exactly this. Now I dont know anyone who in their right mind wants to "destroy the environment" yet for the most part, environmentalists work on a knee jerk reaction style of attack. "green" energy is too expensive to compete with proven yet "dirty" tech? well instead of developing the green tech to compete we must artificially increase the cost of the dirty fuel! we cant use plain old light bulbs anymore, that use more power (and give off heat, thus meaning one could in theory keep their heater lower) and now we are stuck with CFLs that are worse for the environment than the old bulbs!

    The idea of "saving the earth" is a good one, but on the other hand, the earth will be fine long after humans inhabit it.
  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhxBlue (562201) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:14PM (#43205417) Homepage Journal
    I thought Earth Hour was about reducing light pollution?
  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:14PM (#43205423) Homepage

    It's environmentalism theater, just like we have security theater. If I turn out the lights for an hour I can say I've done "my part" to help the environment and raise awareness then go back to ignoring it the rest of the year.

  • by blippo (158203) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:15PM (#43205427)

    Like most, if not all other enviromental efforts, it's all about talk and symbolism, and very nearly nothing about actually doing the math...

  • by arcite (661011) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:16PM (#43205439)
    The point of Earth Hour is public awareness, to get people talking, thinking, discussing solutions. To experience one solitary hour without electricity exposes westerners to the daily hardship that billions around the world face due to lack of electricity. I'm here in Egypt, they currently have a 20% electricity generation deficit. This means that even though I may live in one of the best neighborhoods in Cairo, I experience low-shedding 1 hour every second day. My Earth Hour is every second day! So, can the hipster who doesn't have a clue who submitted this story, pull his head out of his self-important ass? You're either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Bitching about awareness of the inequality in the world as being a waste of time is being part of the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:18PM (#43205485)

    Yes, Earth Hour does nothing in itself; I thought this was something that pretty well understood and didn't require *another* article written about it. The point of Earth Hour, however, is to build awareness of living in -- and contributing to -- a changing climate. That said, the feel good factor itself might be detrimental as people will feel that they have done their duty for the year. But this is currently, as far as I am aware, unsubstantiated and probably warrants actual research.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:20PM (#43205505) Homepage Journal
    Why can't we just fucking STOP the twice a year transition to/from Daylight Savings Time?!??!

    Likely as not, it would save more energy, and certainly help with human internal clocks.

    From what I understand, they actually observer statistically distinct spikes in heart attacks and suicides with the time changes each year.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:22PM (#43205531)

    Like most, if not all other environmental efforts, it's all about talk and symbolism, and very nearly nothing about actually doing the math...

    Math is hard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:22PM (#43205545)

    This article and the one a couple below it remind me of those tedious debates in freshman dorms where everyone is trying to prove how smart they are by taking contrary positions.

    Look, this wasn't my idea but evidently people want to show that they can act as a community and do something very, very small together, too small to make any difference in itself, but the idea is that at least we can all come together and focus on the problem for a moment. And so maybe we can eventually cooperate more effectively at some point. Isn't that totally obvious? Yes, but not for the sorts of people I mentioned above.

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@NOspam.comcast.net> on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:29PM (#43205641)

    Crap like this is feel good meaningless junk science that does absolutely nothing to solve anything. This is no better than saying were going to boycott the gas stations on Sunday (and fill up on Monday). People need to get real about the environment and as long as we've got crap like this and lunatics at places like greenpeace getting the headlines were going to continue shooting ourselves in the foot. We don't need the Haliburton's of the world do the damage when we keep deluding ourselves by pulling crap like this.

  • Re:Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JeanCroix (99825) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:30PM (#43205645) Journal
    I thought Earth Hour was about reducing thought pollution. But that thought may have been one of the polluted ones.
  • The Real Benefit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mellow106 (669136) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:33PM (#43205689)
    Forget CO2 levels. This is a helpful excuse to rendezvous with your lady/fellow and figure out *some* way to amuse yourselves for an hour in the dark. "Hey, it's for the good of the planet. Or whatever."
  • by cyborg_zx (893396) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:35PM (#43205721)

    "Saving the Earth," sounds better than "Saving ourselves," even though the later is plainly more honest on any environmental issue you care to name.

  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:36PM (#43205737)

    "green" energy is too expensive to compete with proven yet "dirty" tech? well instead of developing the green tech to compete we must artificially increase the cost of the dirty fuel!

    Yes, we should just let everyone burn cheap dirty fuel without any let or hindrance. Why should they pay anything for the health costs to the community from people who killed by cancer, the changes in climate, or anything else? It's only those commie greenies who think polluters should have to pay for the harm they do. We all know that if we just let business make the maximum profit in the shortest time then everything else will solve itself.

    environmentalists work on a knee jerk reaction style of attack.

    Whereas climate change deniers will just find some silly statement some environmentalist said and try to use it to discredit everything any environmentalist ever said. So they can go back to using "plain old lightbulbs", driving their SUVs, and not giving a crap about the next generation.

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:42PM (#43205847)

    Yeah, I had to read that part twice because I had the same thought. What the writer seems to mean is that there won't in fact be drop in energy significant enough to step down power production and thereby save CO2. The "moreover" introduces a hypothetical possibility: i.e. even if power consumption decreased enough to step down power production, the energy wasted in stepping production down and up would outweigh the overall savings in consumption. This makes a sort of sense, but I saw no numbers in TFA to back it up, so I'll remain skeptical.

    The fact that the author indulges in one non sequitur after another (why is he talking about the benefits of electricity? who's denying them? I thought the point was that our means of generating it has some drawbacks. Who's lighting candles?), often without offering evidence, leaves me even colder. The basic notion that shutting off electric lights for an hour is about making us feel good I can agree with. But I think this guy is just trolling. Maybe it makes him feel better about himself.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:47PM (#43205895) Homepage Journal

    My area was hit by Hurricane Sandy in November and my electricity was out for a week! I think I've given my hour for quite a few years!

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:48PM (#43205909)

    Without any adoption the tech will never advance.

    $4/gallon is still very cheap for gas, last time I was in Europe I paid over $10/gallon.

    On top of which dirty tech is often cheap due to externalities. Since you don't pay for the cancer the kids down the street from the coal plant get your light bulbs are very cheap for you and expensive for them.

  • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:50PM (#43205925) Homepage

    Well DUH! Earth hour IS symbolic. So what. In doing this, we are reminding ourselves that the world will not end if we reduce our energy consumption. We remind ourselves of how wasteful our energy use is. It encourages people to make long term adjustments to their energy consumption habits. When I see posts themed "fuck Earth Week", I am reminded of a 10 year old boy having a temper tantrum and holding his breath. That or a paid poster. The simple fact is that an economy cannot thrive long if it is based on a culture of waste. It is deeply irrational to think that waste is a positive practice. Waste of energy. Waste of financial resources. Waste of labor resources. Waste of physical resources. Wasting scarce resources makes us all poorer in the end.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:50PM (#43205929)

    I looked into it a few years ago after staying at an "earth friendly" surf resort that didn't have elctrical power in Nicaragua. They gave everyone two candles a night and insisted it was eco-friendly.

    The amount of soot, CO^2 and other bad stuff from a single candle is worse for the environment, not to mention your health, than running a 60W light bulb off electricity generated at a coal power plant in the USA. In all likelyhood a coal plant in Nicaragua is worse than the USA but I thought it was interesting...

  • by Endo13 (1000782) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:57PM (#43206027)

    And other studies done when DST was increased a few years ago showed increased energy use due to more home AC use. AC uses a lot more power than artificial lighting, and home AC is generally a lot less efficient than commercial AC.

    But that's all moot, because you can achieve the same thing as DST simply by having places of business open and close an hour earlier. Except, of course, without the downside of stupidly forcing everyone to change their clocks and adjust to a different time twice a year.

    So how about this: just switch to DST year-round. Maybe then people will realize how stupid it is to set clocks off by an hour. I mean really, if we're going to do this it makes more sense to simply use GMT everywhere and forget about time zones all together. After all, we're already not using the best time for our time zones so having clocks for any purpose other than keeping track of time is already gone.

  • by An dochasac (591582) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:59PM (#43206057)
    While writing a story about Hannukah and other lighting miracles, I found that modern LEDs can run for 6 months on the equivalent of 1 day's supply of menorah oil. [greenprophet.com] So if you were to attempt to illuminate your house with candles for Earth Hour, you'd consume 4000 times as much oil. Thankfully we don't do that.

    Beyond Earth Hour's temporary abatement of light pollution in participating cities, earth hour is symbolic. It is also a talking point. "Wow, look at that comet, I wouldn't have seen that if we hadn't turned off the barn light." "The building's landscaping is a bit too bright, I think it looks better against a natural sky.", "Hi neighbor, would you like me to show you Jupiter and the Pleiades through this telescope." , "Hey this is fun, why don't we do it once a week?"
  • by englishknnigits (1568303) on Monday March 18, 2013 @02:59PM (#43206059)
    Money is as much an information delivery system as anything else. It communicates to people what they have to give up in order to get something else. For example, if you apply a pollution tax (such as charge companies per ton of C02 produced) then you communicate to companies that producing C02 will harm their bottom line and it is worth it for them to spend money to reduce their pollution output. You aren't telling them how to do it or even mandating it, you are making reducing pollution in their own self interest. A pollution tax would also have the effect of increasing the costs of goods and services that produce pollution so consumers will choose to avoid products that create the most pollution or pay the price for it.

    I'm not arguing for any particular tax or system, I am pointing out that "rely[ing] on money" is actually a sure fire way to alter peoples behavior. Money is not all about greed, it is a useful and necessary tool.
  • It is important (Score:5, Insightful)

    by citylivin (1250770) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:04PM (#43206123)

    "Like most, if not all other enviromental*sic* efforts, it's all about talk and symbolism, and very nearly nothing about actually doing the math..."

    That is because the average person cannot in any way dent trans oceanic shipping burning bunker oil, or stop the americans and chinese from burning tonnes of coal per second. Of course its symbolic. Symbols are the only way for the average person to focus in on these earth sized problems. Christmas does not bring "good will to all mankind", however it may be enough to focus in on goodwill in your own life. Thus symbolism can bring a certain focus on the individual level to get people thinking about all the energy we use every day and what it would be like if it one day shut off / became unaffordable and we really did have to go without.

    Symbolism is very important here precisely because we cannot do anything meaningful on an individual level to combat global climate change. It's all we have. I have never believed that one person giving up their car, or consuming no boxed foods makes a difference globally. I do not think that actual reduction in emissions is the idea behind earth hour. I think people that make that judgement are missing the point of it. Same as "buy nothing" day. Stuff will still get bought by someone, that's not the point, its symbolic.
    *flame hat on*

  • by dywolf (2673597) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:09PM (#43206179)

    So why just do it symbolicly? Why not do it all the time?

    that right there is the self-contained hypocrisy of the entire notion of hte symbolic hour of non-use.

    You only want to do the symbolic gesture, cause you dont actually want to give up your A/C, your furnace, your comfortable house outside the city the requires a commute, your high tech toys.

    In order words, you dont REALLY care.
    You just want to feel good for a minute or two, tell yourself you're not such a bad person, tell yourself "i can quit if i want to"...

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:17PM (#43206275)

    Except in this case, for some people, it does.

    If the blanket is "daylight hours", then tweaking the clocks so that less of those hours occur when I am sleeping means I see more daylight hours. Of course people who get up and go to bed earlier than me could see less daylight hours or just see the timing of them moved a little. Still in the country I happen those who see more daylight hours outnumber those that see less for a net win.

  • A/C and heat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:19PM (#43206297) Homepage Journal

    Turning off air conditioning or heat for one hour will accomplish absolutely nothing. As soon as it is turned back on it still has to move or generate all the heat energy over that hour it would have otherwise. Simply put, it will have to work a little harder to catch up what it would have been doing over that hour anyway. Same with hot water heaters, dehumidifiers, refrigerators, etc. Merely putting off washing clothes, cooking, etc obviously accomplishes nothing either.

  • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:20PM (#43206311)

    One of the reasons "dirty" tech is cheaper is because you're making other people pay for the consequences of your actions. I could save myself some money on trash pickup if I just throw all my trash into my neighbors yard, but as a society we've decided that you're not allowed to shove your problems onto other people like that. We're not artificially raising prices, we're just making people pay for what they're already using.

  • by webmistressrachel (903577) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:39PM (#43206497) Journal

    Ask someone who does shift work on a sem-permament basis about this and you'll get a completely different answer.

    "it is a bit less confusing ... for you" - so the rest of the world, having realised that consistency and accuracy is more important than the light from nearby star? How do people cope in Binary or other types of star system? Answer: They just do.

    "your sundial won't work" - well my analogue TV doesn't work, along with lots of other old tech I've thrown away or re-purposed because the rest of the world moved on. I'm still better off with what I have now instead, it's called "progress". Despite governments and wars holding us back in other ways, progress still happens, and it's still a good thing. (fictional example)Your sundial probably wouldn't work that well in my Firefly-class transport, either, but I'd rather be on board exploring than not... (fictional example).

  • by Lithdren (605362) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:51PM (#43206675)

    I honestly have no idea what you mean.

    A vast majority of people, the whole concept is a huge waste of time. If someone wants to have more daylight hours in their work day, wakeup just before daylight. Why move the freaking clocks? It doesn't make any sense, and it never has. Hours are just a measurement, there's nothing that says you have to be asleep at 7am. If you want to get up early because you'll get more daylight for things you're doing, get up early!

    Instead we have this system where we jump the time forward or back an hour, and it serves no prupuse. It's a waste of time and energy.

  • by houghi (78078) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:57PM (#43206739)

    No, it is about awareness. Just like wearing a pink ribbon does not stop cancer.

    The fact that it works is shown here right on /. We are talking about it.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:59PM (#43206753)

    If someone wants to have more daylight hours in their work day, wakeup just before daylight. Why move the freaking clocks? It doesn't make any sense, and it never has. Hours are just a measurement, there's nothing that says you have to be asleep at 7am. If you want to get up early because you'll get more daylight for things you're doing, get up early!

    Sure, and if you could convince a few hundred million people to do that, you probably wouldn't be commenting on Slashdot, you'd be President of the whole planet. People are not rational, and they do not behave rationally. A person is, sure, but people as a group are not, and they never have been. You can make all the theories you want about how daylight savings was always a stupid idea, but if you forget that large groups of people are involved, and that those people won't follow the logical path, you're just wasting energy typing.

    Mind you, with how cheap electricity is now, and with how much interior lighting is used anyways, it doesn't matter anymore and hasn't for decades, but it made sense at one point.

  • by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Monday March 18, 2013 @04:11PM (#43206885) Journal

    Earth Hour is a good idea, and is about raising awareness, not saving 1 hour's worth of lighting. I've begged my kids for years to turn off lights when they leave a room. We probably burn a kilowatt 24/7 just due to these lights. I'm slowly replacing the lights they leave on the most with LED bulbs, but they're very expensive.

    If Earth Hour can help a 100 million kids like mine learn to turn off the freaking lights, we'd save 50 gigawatts of power. Now, I doubt there are 100 million kids wasting a kilowatt non-stop, but according to Wikipedia, 1.6 billion people watched coverage of Earth Hour last year. That's a lot of kids.

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday March 18, 2013 @04:39PM (#43207199)

    I don't want more daylight before work. I'd rather have 5 hours of light after work than 1 hour before and 4 hour after.
    Larger blocks of time to do things means less time is wasted starting and stopping.

  • by Wookact (2804191) on Monday March 18, 2013 @05:30PM (#43207687)
    You do realise that instead of everyone changing their schedule twice a year is less schedule changing that your idea. What if my work wants me to come in earlier, but the school doesn't want the kids that early? What if that prevents me from getting to my job on time?
  • by Zalbik (308903) on Monday March 18, 2013 @06:54PM (#43208491)

    People are not rational, and they do not behave rationally. A person is, sure, but people as a group are not, and they never have been.

    I think Agent K [imdb.com] said it better:

    "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday March 18, 2013 @11:26PM (#43210509)

    Well, here's your first problem. You don't get to "let" me do shit. I can burn plastic bags in my back yard all day long and flip you the bird as you drive by in your Prius.

    Try it and see what your neighbours and eventually the police do to you.

    Nuclear power has 0 CO2 emissions... support that, and support Yukka mountain if you really care about slowing global warming.

    Actually, I do. And in any case, why would my position on nuclear preclude my objecting to burning plastic bags?

    But you need to get off your high horse and do what you can do... and stop dreaming of the perfect solution. It's not going to happen.

    It's the "anti-greens"/denialists/etc who insist there must be a perfectly clean, cheap solution before they will change their own habits one iota. And they won't pay for research or infrastructure, it just has to "happen".

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