Last weekend, Sydney was urged to switch off the lights on Saturday night between 7:30 and 8:30 pm, for what was dubbed ‘Earth Hour’. I went with some friends to Milson’s point to have a small picnic and watch the city lights go off.

We were underwhelmed.

At 7:30 the lights on the arches and structural columns of the Harbour Bridge went out and at 8:00 the Opera House decided to switch off the purely aesthetic lights on the sails. That was about it.

I wasn’t expecting the entire CBD to suddenly descend into darkness – they clearly can’t switch off the street lights, et cetera – but even so, there seemed to be plenty of lights still on. In fact the only differences I noticed were the Bridge and Opera House. So hopefully you can understand my befuddlement upon seeing this image in the Sun-Herald the next day.

switch11.jpg

It looks like a huge difference, right?

Well apparently the ‘before’ photos were taken on the Thursday night, not just ‘before’ Earth Hour on the Saturday night as implied. The reason being that most people in the city switched off their lights before leaving the office on the Friday afternoon, as they should, but it meant that the Sun-Herald couldn’t get a good comparison image. I would contend that the comparison photos should be taken at a corresponding time, say, exactly a week earlier. There have also been photographers speculating that the differences between the various pairs of photos were mainly due to exposure; they were doctored¹. All this is outlined on the MediaWatch website, who broke the story last night.

While I fully support whatever the people who organised Earth Hour were trying to do, I think it was all a little bit bogus; a publicity-driven response to what is a very complex and difficult problem. Hopefully it wasn’t being seen as a ‘solution’ at all, just a demonstration, but obviously some thought it was meant to be an earnest attempt at saving an hour’s worth of electricity:

By switching off our lights … we kept the equivalent of 48,000 cars off our roads for one hour. That’s the equivalent of taking 5.5 cars off our road per year. If by making Earth Hour a yearly event we all feel like we are doing something for the environment, we are deluding ourselves.

Clearly, saving electricity was not the immediate and direct purpose of Earth Hour, but rather to draw attention to how much electricity is wasted so that the public in the future might be a little bit less flippant in a country where energy costs are certainly no disincentive to consumers.

We shouldn’t have to be coerced into consuming less energy. It should be the norm.

¹By the way, Fairfax, which owns the Sun-Herald, was one of the sponsors of Earth Hour.