Marketing mavens ambush Sydney’s Earth HourMarch 27th, 2008 - 9:30 am ICT by admin
By Sid Astbury
Sydney, March 27 (DPA) It’s easy to poke fun at Sydney’s Earth Hour, a 60-minute pause this Saturday night when Australia’s biggest city is to dim a little as some of its householders and businesses turn off lights and electrical appliances. “Is there any greater example of green stupidity than Earth Hour?” asked journalist and popular blogger Tim Blair. “The whole stunt requires people to turn off efficiently made and distributed energy - electricity - and replace it with alternatives - candles and gas barbecues - that have to be transported by oil-burning ships, trucks and cars to the point where they are to be set fire to in the open air without any means of capturing emissions.”
Despite its mockers, Earth Hour has caught on. Bangkok, Chicago, Suva, Copenhagen, Manila, Tel Aviv, Christchurch and Toronto are among 24 cities joining Sydney in a campaign begun just last year by the international environmental group World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).
“The critics and sceptics need to get on board,” New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma said when pledging to dim Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House for the occasion. “It’s utter rubbish to say that symbolism can’t lead to change.”
Backers are honest about Earth Hour being a symbolic gesture. Andy Ridley, the executive director of Earth Hour, described it as a “global initiative in which cities and communities will turn out their lights to symbolise their leadership and commitment to finding solutions for climate change”.
Toronto Mayor David Miller chimed in, saying Earth Hour was “a very exciting way to raise awareness of this critical issue”.
Organisers reckon that last year, in the centre of Sydney, electricity consumption fell 10.2 percent during the 60-minute campaign.
“People really got behind the cause and showed they cared about global warming,” Ridley said. “We originally thought 5 per cent would be a good result, but this is more than double that - an exceptional result.”
Critics argued that any saving would have to be offset against additional carbon burned during the publicity campaign for Earth Hour - for example, a gas-powered hot-air balloon flying over Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide in the weeks running up to Earth Hour, extolling the virtues of energy saving.
By the WWF’s reckoning, last year’s effort saved 24 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of taking 48,613 cars off the road for one hour.
University of Chicago economist David Solomon said even this modest claim was exaggerated. “Statistically speaking, Earth Hour appears to have been a complete flop,” Solomon said.
Organisers said more than 6,000 businesses are participants in Earth Hour. Some of these businesses, though, stand accused of hijacking Earth Hour for their own publicity purposes.
The Glass Brasserie at Sydney’s swish Hilton Hotel is promoting an extravagant candlelit dinner during Earth Hour. “There’s a beautiful feel to the restaurant,” said chef Luke Mangan, who equated the planet-saving ambience to that of Valentine’s Day.
The Sydney Theatre Company also seemed confused about the objective. Director Cate Blanchett is bringing forward the start of Saturday night’s play to 6.30 p.m. so the 90-minute performance is finished in time for the start of Earth Hour. Candlelit drinks with the Oscar-winning actress and keen environmentalist are to follow. Not a watt of power-saving is on offer.
Equally baffling is a promise by the Sydney Dance Company to mark Earth Hour by holding its Saturday night performance “only under essential lights”. Presumably, Earth Hour done, the company would go back to the happy glare of non-essential lights.
Debate has raged over just how environmentally sensible it is to encourage householders and businesses to switch to candles for illumination during Earth Hour.
In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, reader Paul Roberts argued that burning candles releases much more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than flicking on an energy-saving electrical light bulb.
Candlemaker Cate Burton has received lots of orders in the run-up to Earth Hour. For her, it’s not really about ecology.
“Earth Hour is all about stepping back from modern life and remembering the things that are important - company with good friends and company with yourself,” she said.
And anyway, Burton said, “everyone looks better in candlelight”.
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