Image: Christian Haugen/Flickr, Creative Commons.
WWF’s ‘Earth Hour’ is today. People in cities all over the world will switch off their lights in an gesture billed as ‘the world’s biggest environment event.’
It’s arguably pointless. Or even worse.
Earth Hour tricks people into thinking they’ve done something useful by sitting in the dark for 60 minutes, and lets the real villains in the climate change story off the hook.
Just 90 mega-companies are responsible for two thirds of all manmade carbon emissions since the dawn of the industrial age. And yet, with its implied focus on energy-saving and individual responsibility, Earth Hour sends out the message that ordinary citizens are the ones to blame for climate change. It takes away the deeply political nature of the climate change battle.
Yet it lumbers on year after year, turning over donations for WWF and helping to take the heat off the polluters ransacking our globe by blaming climate change on everyone equally.
I’ve railed against Earth Hour for years. My ire for it became so notorious that a previous housemate once removed the fuses from the house for an hour, forcing me to take part against my will.
But criticism only gets us so far. Instead of switching off your lights for an hour, perhaps we could all spend an hour planning to take real action for our future.
Here are seven things you could plan to do during Earth Hour that would truly make a difference.
1. Join or start an air pollution campaign in your local area. Climate change is a nebulous concept. Dangerous air pollution filling our lungs is not. A growing body of science shows that talking about local pollution rather than climate change engages far more people in these issues. By 2030, the UN estimates that two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities. City and local governments are becoming increasingly important in the climate fight, and local air pollution campaigns are getting results, saving lives and involving people way beyond the traditional environmental milieu. Plus, it’s a good way to get to know your community.
2. Join a political party and its in-house environmental pressure group. Most political parties have these – Labour has SERA, the Tories have the Conservative Environmental Network, etc. To get the change we want, politicians need to be challenged on the streets, at the ballot box, in their constituency offices, but also inside their own parties. Politicians depend on internal legitimacy, so decision-makers need to be challenged inside and outside their parties.
3. Lobby your elected representatives in a serious, concerted way. A few years ago I attended a lobbying training session put on by well-known NGO. A former MP was there to teach attendees how best to engage with decision-makers. He described one incredibly persistent environmentalist constituent, who always came to his surgeries, phoned his office, wrote handwritten letters. She lobbied him over a range of different issues over a long period. Over time, her point of view became irresistible, culminating in him giving his time for free to an environmental organisation. We are in danger of losing this traditional, meaningful, effective form of advocacy in favour of endless spamming of politician’s email accounts with pre-prepared template emails, which are waded through by staff. Although influencing politicians is only one tool in the toolbox and isn’t a solution in itself, if done well, on the right scale, it can be very effective. For inspiration, pick up ‘Call The Halls’, a pay-what-you-feel e-book guide to lobbying elected reps. It’s for a US audience but a lot of the lessons are smart and apply in most democracies.
4. Cancel a regular donation to a big charity and give it to a grassroots environmental group instead. A while ago I started a small regular donation – the price of a few cups of coffee a month – to environmental heroes Reclaim The Power. Their work is powerful and it’s done on a shoestring. They take brave, effective action to protect our future, risking arrest and injury. I know that my small donation will go further with them than with a massive mega-charity.
5. Take some consumer action - in coordination with others. A new generation of millennial investors are coming into the market, who studies show care substantially more about social and environmental issues than the generation that preceded them. As they become outraged about the fossil fuels their (meagre) pensions and savings are invested in, growing numbers of financial institutions are being forced to react. Check out this inspiring story of how a 3-year campaign by an Australian youth group forced one of Australia’s biggest bank to rule out new coal mines. Over here, Fossil Free UK is a good place to start.
6. Talk to your friends and family. We often leave this out. Your right-wing relatives are not beyond saving. Ask them to become involved with you in something on this list. Check our Climate Outreach’s extensive resources for talking about climate change with people on the centre-right.
7. Take direct action. It’s better to break the law than break the climate. Throughout history, people have used means beyond the law to advance rightful causes. Environmental direct action comes in many forms. In London, the work of Stop Killing Londoners is capturing people’s imagination with air pollution direct action. Reclaim the Power are making fracking in the UK impossible. Peaceful direct action gets the goods and if enough people do it, it’s the most effective thing on this list.
I wish you a (hopefully) useful Earth Hour!