I am an environmentalist. For my whole adult life I have protested, campaigned, helped to elect climate-savvy politicians and worked hard on what I see as the cause of my life: putting a stop to the dangerous change to our climate that is killing millions.
And yet I hate one of the world’s most prominent environmental events with the intense heat of a burning climate – the annual WWF event “Earth Hour”, which this year will take place on 25 March. The charity expects millions of people around the world to symbolically switch off their lights for an hour.
Earth Hour is terrible, and not just because the symbolism of darkness is very poorly thought out. The worst thing about Earth Hour is that it tricks people into thinking they’ve done something useful by turning off the lights for 60 minutes, and lets the real villains in the climate change story off the hook.
By focusing on individual behaviour, Earth Hour sends out the message that ordinary citizens are the ones to blame for climate change. It passes on the unhelpful message that all we need to do is change our lightbulbs and do more recycling and everything will be fine. Every time someone says that environmentalists are nagging busybodies obsessed with making you turn your TV off standby before you go to bed, Earth Hour has contributed to that.
Ultimately, this publicity stunt doesn’t put pressure on anyone to change, let alone the genuinely powerful who hold our futures in their hands. And let’s be clear: the people who are wrecking the planet are the fossil fuel companies, not Georgina from Enfield or Bob from Middlesbrough who occasionally leave the kitchen light on all night.
Just 90 of the world’s largest companies are responsible for two thirds of all man-made carbon emissions. The blame for extreme weather, hurricanes, flooding, rising seas, forced migration, drought and the resultant death is squarely on their shoulders. BP and ExxonMobil have known about climate change for decades, and yet have spent millions funding lobby groups and politicians that deny the science and delay action, just so they can make more money.
And despite this, the message of Earth Hour is that the blame is shared equally. “Turn your lights off for an hour to let other people know it's their fault too.“ It's this kind of garbage that allows people to caricature environmentalists as people who want you to live by candlelight in a cave. It discredits us, while liberating politicians of their responsibility to do something about the companies who really shoulder the blame.
People should be angry. They should be furious about how the super-rich are wrecking the planet. They shouldn't be tricked by celebrities into thinking they've done something useful by sitting in the dark for an hour.
Let’s stop messing about with lightbulbs and fight the real enemy, through financial divestment, through direct action, by ruining the public reputations of those companies responsible for wrecking the climate.
We are starting to see these strategies achieving results. Fracking has largely been stalled in the UK because of community opposition targeting the companies that seek to poison land for profit. Shell’s CEO said last week that trust in the fossil fuel industry has been “eroded to the point that it’s becoming a serious issue for our long-term future”. This is because of the environmental movement – particularly the fossil fuel divestment movement – confronting these companies head on, not by asking Coldplay to tell you to switch off yor lights.
So if you really want to do something for Earth Day, don’t just get involved with posturing or virtue signalling. Join a fossil fuel divestment group or start your own. Join an organisation that’s exposing the greedy fossil fuel companies. Put pressure on politicians to change their climate policies. Do all of the above. And if you’re already doing it, tell 10 friends to do the same.
But don’t bother sitting in the living room in the dark for an hour. It won’t help.
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