Thursday, 26 March 2009
This weekend, people all around the developed world are switching off their lights for Earth Hour. The initiative, facilitated by the WWF "acts as a worldwide call to action to every individual, business and community to take a stand against Climate Change" according to the website.
I must admit to having mixed feelings about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong... I think that it is a great idea, but I just wonder how much of a real difference it will make.
I remember during the 1980s in South Africa when I was one of a group of editors working on UpFront, the journal of the UDF and in many ways the mouthpiece for the then-banned ANC, there were some people within the organisation who were critical of the contribution of whites to the struggle. Their argument was that we could enjoy the adrenaline rush of putting up illegal posters or holding illegal meetings, but at the end of the day we went back to the cocoons of our safe homes in our white suburbs.
I feel a little like that now. Those lucky enough to have electricity (and cars and various other consumer-culture necessities) are contributing to climate change far more than those for whom electricity is a dream. Like people who are living in a yurt in the middle of Mongolia. Or a shack in any South African town.
So sure, we should register our support for climate change initiatives. We should call for action to stop further environmental damage. But sitting in the dark for an hour isn't really going to make a difference. We'll go back to our safe, electrified environment straight after the adrenaline rush has worn off.
And really, how many people are actually prepared to change their lifestyles because of climate change?
The big corporates certainly aren't. Shell and BP announced recently that they are no longer going to invest in renewable energy such as wind and solar power. Instead it will be looking at increasing biofuel production, where profits are much higher. Who cares about the implications! Biofuels have been criticised for a range of ills, including nitrous oxide emitting fertilisers and starvation of populations whose arable land is being turned into fuel rather than food production.
The world's biggest investor in wind power, Iberdrola Renewables, is cutting its investment in Britain by more than 40%, which means that 200 000 less homes will be powered by renewable energy.
So, while I absolutely support the idea of Earth Hour, and encourage all of you to sign up (there's a link on this page), I'm left feeling that it is just a show. Toyi toying because it is fun rather than because of any real commitment.
Real commitment will mean changing the way each of us live our lives. Every day. Without exception. And just how many of us are prepared to do that?