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Earth Hour: full of hot air?

Jennifer Choi asks WWF watt the deal is

Published on March 25th 2010.

Earth Hour: full of hot air?

Switch lights off for an hour. Help tackle climate change. If only it was that simple.

“The idea is that Earth Hour will show politicians that the electorate really cares about climate change and that to get voter support, especially in the upcoming election, this needs to be on the political agenda.”

But that's exactly what WWF (World Wildlife Fund) wants us to do this Saturday at 8:30pm. Many of you will have heard about this. It's a superbly done PR campaign and has the likes of the Trafford Centre, Manchester Cathedral and Spinningfields all signed up to power down. It's not just us either. It's 120 countries and every single continent. And between all the Facebook fanpages, tweets and YouTube videos, it's looking very likely that they'll hit their target of having a billion participants.

Just how bright an idea is Earth Hour though? With a record number of participants, WWF have admitted that the event itself does nothing to reduce consumption. Their mission statement reads 'Earth Hour will send a message to world leaders to finish the job (having 'missed a critical opportunity at the UN climate summit to tackle climate change') and agree a binding, global deal.'

As soundbites go, it's not very catchy. Still, what Earth Hour presents is an excellent opportunity for local authorities to boast about their environmental credentials, for businesses to tick the Corporate Social Responsibility box, and for individuals to feel that sense of satisfaction from having 'made a difference.' Suddenly being part of Earth Hour is very hip, and very green.

At Confidential HQ Earth Hour met with a bit of scepticism. So we got in touch with WWF's head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, to ask some questions:

Why should people not think this is just another big (albeit well done) publicity stunt for WWF and participating businesses?

WWF is not naive in that respect. It is aware that on its own Earth Hour will not make enough of an impact. However, this complements a large number of other initiatives on many environmental issues. Earth Hour should be viewed as a part of WWF's year-round campaigning.

As for businesses, obviously it would be ideal if they all become avid campaigners and climate change enthusiasts. We acknowledge that some will view it as a one-off effort, but we also believe that others will do much more in the long-term. We need businesses to prioritise climate change because they can influence policy makers. Having them on board will make the implementation of legislation and framework changes much smoother and easier.

When WWF did Earth Hour 2009, the aim was to get world leaders to agree a deal at the (then) upcoming Copenhagen summit. Even by your admission this hasn't worked. Why should people keep doing Earth Hour?

We are disappointed that despite the public support ahead of the Copenhagen summit, a deal could not be reached. However, with an increasing number of countries experiencing the impact of climate change, it is more important than ever to keep sending a global message to world leaders that people remain passionate about the issue and we need to address this.

The idea is that Earth Hour will show politicians that the electorate really cares about climate change and that to get voter support, especially in the upcoming election, this needs to be on the political agenda.

We need to keep doing Earth Hour because we cannot afford to get complacent about the issue. The job is nowhere near done and it needs to remain on the global agenda.

Give us some evidence, some concrete examples that Earth Hour is making a difference.

Because of various campaigns, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have all pledged to support the issue. The fact that the News of the World, a publication from which we would not normally expect support have also signed up to Earth Hour is a huge achievement.

Another demonstrable step forward is the negotiations on a climate change bill, which is the first of its kind in the world. It's not perfect, but it's going in the right direction. WWF foresees that it will need to keep campaigning for the next few decades, and Earth Hour will be around for some time yet.

So there you have it. In summary, Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture that's part of the grand scheme of initiatives to tackle climate change. Some businesses will use it as a publicity stunt but, chances are, others will take the issue more seriously. It's a huge show of public support and keeps the issue alive. They haven't yet done a global climate deal, but if we don't keep banging on about it, they never will.

Besides, if we all switch off for an hour, we may see the stars again in Manchester this Saturday. If nothing else, Confidential likes the symmetry in Earth Hour.

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