Earth Hour – how to cause more pollution

From the Earth Hour website:
“On Saturday 27 March 2010 at 8.30pm, we want a billion people around the world to switch off their lights for one hour – WWF’s Earth Hour. Show you care about climate change.”

Yes, I care about climate change, but I fail to see how this exercise will help. It can only do more harm than good. In encouraging people to turn off their lights en masse for one hour between 20:30 and 21:30, the WWF is going to cause a massive drop in electricity demand at 20:30 (in itself a big problem for electricity suppliers) and then conversely (or perversely, given the context) a massive surge in demand at 21:30. The surge in demand at 21:30 will mean that generators will have to be put back on line and this will require a huge and sudden expenditure of energy (e.g. burning more coal or gas) to do so. Utility companies have to plan for advert breaks in sporting events, which is normally the time when thousands of people go into the kitchen and turn on their kettles and water companies have a sudden surge in demand as thousands of toilets are flushed.

This is akin to the strange logic of turning central heating off to save energy. The house cools down and then when it needs to be warmed up again has to start from the base point of a cold house and therefore use more energy to restore it to the required temperature than would have been used, had the central heating just been turned down a little bit to maintain a slightly lower temperature. As an aside, this large cooling and reheating of houses is not good for a house or its contents (particularly electrical appliances and acoustic instruments), let alone the waste of energy involved.

If the WWF is intent on conducting this Earth Hour exercise, a more sensible approach would have been to encourage people to switch off appliances for an hour at some time in a given week, or even a month, which would stagger the impact on the utility companies and not create the crazy surge in demand (and consequently the pollution!) which Earth ‘Switch Everything Back On’ Minute will cause.

If we are really serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions relatively quickly, we have a clean and reliable source of energy, which has been in use for decades around the world. It’s called nuclear power. The French have bought into it in a big way, and to compare modern nuclear power stations with Chernobyl is not a valid comparison. Regarding nuclear waste… it can be buried safely deep underground in disused mines, where it can slowly decay without threatening anyone.

I’m all in favour of alternative energy – harnessing what nature provides us is clearly where we need to be headed (and many people are already fed up of me ranting about the potential I see in solar roads), but these alternative energy sources have to be viable. They need to provide a massive proportion if not all of our electricity needs. Solar roads seemingly have the potential to supply the world’s electricity needs many times over if adopted on a substantial basis, but even I must concede that they are not yet ready. So, in the meantime, the obvious choice of clean electricity generation is nuclear power.

Trying to reduce our electricity consumption is not viable. The world’s demand for electricity is going to go one way – up, whether we like it or not. There appear to be large number of people with strange masochistic tendencies who appear to be hoping for a return to the dark ages so that they can feel smug. This reminds me of the comment Jasper Carrot once made that the most annoying aspect of a nuclear war would be all the CND supporters who would inevitably walk around saying “I told you so” after that particular brand of Armageddon.

Rather than embracing the concept of blackouts, no central heating and none of their favourite electronic gizmos, people who are passionate about cleaning up the environment need to look for or at least get behind technological solutions. Reducing electricity consumption is best done through use of more efficient technologies (e.g. better batteries, insulation, better use of resources, and more efficient motors) rather than by a perverse (and unworkable) desire to send us back to the dark ages.

Still, many celebrities are behind the Earth Hour campaign and they must be right because… they, and not scientists, are the experts.


  1. Trying to reduce our electricity consumption is not viable. The world’s demand for electricity is going to go one way – up, whether we like it or not.
    I’m sorry but I simply can’t agree. There is huge potential for reducing energy consumption. Vast quantities are wasted by businesses needlessly leaving equipment and lighting on. Exchanging low energy efficient items for more energy efficient models – computers, TVs, white goods, light bulbs, etc. – is another pain free source of energy use reduction. And then simple steps like switching lights off can save some more.

    • I don’t disagree about reducing energy consumption, so long as it doesn’t have an adverse effect on quality of life.
      “Reducing electricity consumption is best done through use of more efficient technologies (e.g. better batteries, insulation, better use of resources, and more efficient motors)”
      Whilst turning off lights and unused equipment in office buildings and at home for longer periods is of course good practice (even from a company finance department’s point of view!), replacing old electrical items with new ones is only sensible at the end of their lives: otherwise, you just create a problem of waste and further consumption. Naturally, there is a balance to be made here. If an item is likely to last for years and consumes stupid amounts of electricity, it would be sensible to replace it.
      I maintain however, the electricity consumption on a global basis will continue to rise, and I don’t believe that the right course of action is to degrade quality of life, but rather (and we both agree here) to use electricity more efficiently, and, just as importantly from my perspective, to look at technological approaches to saving and generating electricity.
      I would hope that we are headed to a future where we drive nice looking electric cars (and not pathetic-looking mobility vehicle prototype rejects), with a good range and a good battery life, thanks to improved battery technology, and using electricity generated ideally from the free energy that the big star thing in the centre of our solar system gives us (or any other viable free source of energy – nuclear energy would be my second choice right now).
      I just wonder how many people will turn their lights off for an hour in a mis-informed, self-congratulatory, masochistic, polluting(!) and futile stage-managed gesture, but aren’t prepared to sign my petition on solar roads. I would gladly debate this with such people.

      • I fear it is all more complex than people can cope with… here are a couple of spanners that get in the works easily:
        A quarter of the national grid goes to a plant in Runcorn that makes sodium hydroxide and chlorine (Castner-Kellner process).
        People apply the thermodynamics laws to house central heating without understanding that a house isn’t a thermodynamic sytem that the laws can apply to.
        A lot of homes and companies leave all the lights and appliances (computers etc.) on all the time.
        I suspect that use of electricity is going to increase at a greater rate than user optimisation habits are going to be acquired, especially with the advent of electric vehicles.
        Big organisations (like everyone else) have to learn from their mistakes – lets sit back and watch the fire-works!
        Or we could all turn on all our lights to balance things out?!

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