Earth Hour file photo courtesy of the Puerto Princesa City Environment and Natural Resources Office.

Since 2008, the Philippines has been turning off its lights for an hour every last Saturday of March as a symbol of commitment to the ailing planet. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) started this event, which is popularly known as “Earth Hour,” in 2007. But how far have we gone in making relevant changes to the environment for this 60-minute activity? Or does it really do something about it?

Study says not so much
A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the electricity impacts of Earth Hour calculated that the coordinated action caused by the activity resulted in a 4.0% overall average reduction in electricity consumption based on 274 measurements of the observed change in electricity demand in 10 countries from 2007 to 2012.

Photo by Gerald Ticke

The study underscored that the absence of a consistent accounting mechanism for the impact of the behavioral change brought forth by the activity may result in skepticism due to its seemingly insignificant outcome.

“The WWF does not promote electricity savings accounting, so there is no organized mechanism to provide feedback to participants on the impact that their energy conservation behavior has had on their community’s energy demand. Some utilities release data on their region’s Earth Hour results, but this practice is inconsistent and unreliable. Our research shows that a consistent methodology and assumptions used to calculate individual behavior-caused electricity demand changes is needed. The wide range of methodologies used to document demand change experienced during Earth Hour highlights the incongruence between cases and may increase skepticism that real demand changes occur as a result of behavior change,” the researchers wrote.

Criticism of the event’s effects came as soon as it was launched on a global scale. In 2008, an Australian daily equated the energy reduction to “taking 48,613 cars off the road for 1 hour” in Sydney’s central business district, while an Australian columnist was quoted as saying, “A cut so tiny is trivial – equal to taking six cars off the road for a year”.

Impacts in the Philippines
Based on the data of the Department of Energy (DOE), the Philippines had saved a total of 65.32 megawatts (MW) of electricity in last year’s Earth Hour.

The largest energy savings were recorded in Luzon at 35.26 MW, followed by Mindanao at 15.3 MW and Visayas at 14.67 MW.

Although the department failed to disclose the basis of the figures, the data shows that Earth Hour has saved a considerable amount of electricity.

Following the computation suggested by that 1 kilowatt (KW) of electricity consumes .04 Liters of diesel fuel, the Philippines was able to save 21.95 barrels of diesel equivalent to around P200,000 at that time. Notwithstanding the cost and effects of diesel fuel to the environment.

In 2017, WWF reported that more than 713 cities and municipalities, and 193 landmarks in the Philippines participated in the Earth Hour.

“The campaign also reached millions of individuals who amplified our reach on social media to generate public awareness on the pressing need for more sustainable actions to fight climate change,” they said.

WWF says it’s “more than the switch-off event”
WWF claims that Earth Hour is more of an awareness campaign that uses the media to start a dialogue between regular people and everyone from small businesses to government officials.

“More than a switch-off event, Earth Hour 2018 focuses on raising awareness about how accelerating climate change and staggering biodiversity loss threaten the planet. We want to channel the momentum and energy of the Earth Hour movement to connect people to Earth,” the NGO said

“Earth Hour generates big media and online buzz every year, that’s true – but all this is for a good cause to generate public support and reach more people, businesses and governments, to spark conversations. For more than 10 years, Earth Hour has mobilized millions around the world to work together and focus on climate and biodiversity actions as we tackle the planet’s biggest environmental challenges,” WWF added.

The WWF argues that Earth Hour’s policy changes aimed at protecting and conserving the environment are more significant than any purported energy savings.

Among these are the formation of a marine protected area in Argentina covering 3.5 million acres, the development of a 2,700-acre Earth Hour forest in Uganda, and the planting of 17 million trees in Kazakhstan. In Russia, legislation was passed to conserve forests half the size of France.

In the Philippines, the event was said to have caused the deployment of portable solar lamps to replace dangerous and dirty kerosene lamps in Palawan and Mindoro to name a few.

Small victories are still victories
Although the effect towards energy reduction is relatively small, the 2013 study agreed that collective efforts, especially behavioral change, will create an impact that needs to be sustained.

“While the goal of Earth Hour is not to achieve measurable electricity savings, this compilation of recorded and measurable individual behavior-caused electricity demand shifts has shown that the mass purposeful behavior undertaken by Earth Hour participants can quantitatively affect regional electricity demand for periods of one hour. The Earth Hour event also shows that measurable electricity demand reduction change is possible on a mass scale with large portions of populations acting at least for a short-term, without the use of price motivators,” researchers Sarah J. Olexsaka and Alan Meier wrote.

“The policy challenge is to convert these short-term events into longer-term actions, including sustained changes in behavior and investment,” the researchers also said.

WWF maintains that it all boils down to the intention and going beyond the 60 minute activity.

“One of the most common questions we receive during Earth Hour is how switching your lights off 60 minutes once a year actually helps fight the climate crisis and address the drastic loss of diversity of life on Earth. It’s a good question. And the answer comes down to a single word: intention. Every effective movement starts with intentional action. The key is to find where your passion and opportunity for change align and then using that discovery to influence those around you,” WWF said.

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