Sunday, 29 March 2009

Did you turn your lights off on Saturday ?

(photo from

Saturday 8.30 PM to 9.30 PM local time was Earth Hour as most people know by now. 4000 cities and towns in 88 countries joined the event initiated by the World Wildlife Fund to dim non essential lights to highlight the threat of climate change. The organisers had hoped to reach 1 billion people, and possibly succeeded.

Climate change is a key issue facing the world today. Most people would agree that the threat is real and that all of us need to act. An event such as Earth Hour is great for building awareness and touching people. I too switched off my lights yesterday.

However, the issue of climate change, is a very complex subject. It is in some danger of being hijacked by sensationalists, who are completely intolerant of any other viewpoint. Very often, some of the actions urged will actually make the situation worse. There is no simple answer - every action by humans will leave some carbon footprint or the other and sometimes what seems apparently eco friendly may actually be not so good at all. Take even the case of the Earth Hour.

What did most people do for illumination when they switched the lights off ? They probably lit a candle. Most candles are made of paraffin, a heavy hydrocarbon derived from crude oil. An article published in the Christian Science Monitor says that if you burn a paraffin candle for one hour, you would probably release 10 grams of carbon di oxide. If you had turned off a CFL bulb, you would probably have saved 5-13 gms of CO2, depending on what the source of your electricity was. So if you had a candle lit party in Kansas, for example, and lit a candle for every CFL you switched off, you actually added to the climate problem; not reduced it.

Of course, the Earth Hour did greatly reduce the CO2 emitted. A lot more lights were extinguished than candles lit. And by no means is CFL everywhere. Incandescents still rule the world and they emit for more CO2 than paraffin candles. So overall, this was a great event.

But my point is that an action is not always what it seems. A lot more research is needed , preferably under the auspices of the UN, to bring out a guide to the most sensible steps that mankind should take. This should not be left only to the tree huggers. You need a cross section of experts who can recommend the right actions that make the most difference and who can balance the needs of development and the needs of protecting the environment.

I switched off my lights, but can, will, and should, do more. But it would help if somebody (not Michael Moore) told me what's truly the best to do.


Syed Hassan said...

there were many restaurants in singapore which had candle light dinners during the earth hour..this part of 10 g of co2 is a revelation indeed...

Ramesh said...

I didn't know of it either until I read the report in the Christain Science Monitor. Hence my point that its a complex area that doesn't offer simplistic solutuions.

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