Go beyond symbols in earth's hour of need

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am

On March 31, millions across the globe once again pledged their support to cut carbon by shutting off their lights for Earth Hour. The hour was marked by candlelight vigils, fashion shows, concerts and other activities, creating a party-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, it also did not cut much carbon.

Media reports say that several megawatts of electricity consumption was cut during that hour. But, what we all forget is that the carbon emissions do not come from lighting - they come from electric power plants that use coal or fossil fuels. And, if the power plants do not shut down for the hour, then greenhouse gases continue to be emitted.

Every engineer worth his salt knows that simply shutting off your lights for one hour does not cut carbon emissions by much because the power plants will simply operate on 'spinning reserve' mode. One hour is not enough time to shut down and restart a coal plant. The turbines are so large that they will keep spinning even if the steam is stopped. At the same time, a plant's boiler will be subjected to thermal stresses if turned off and restarted within the hour. So, during Earth Hour, coal power plants emit greenhouse gases in anticipation of a surge in demand from everyone restarting at the same time.

Instead of Earth Hour hype, which hardly cuts any carbon emissions, why not try some activities that will actually cut them, such as:

defrost your refrigerator regularly;

maintain your car (black carbon is a short-lived 'climate forcer' that is several thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide);

make it a habit to turn off unused lights, coffee makers, etc;

adjust your air-con thermostat to comfortable cooling levels;

shift to more efficient equipment such as LED lighting, and newer more efficient chillers and air conditioners;

shift to renewable energy and cleaner sources of electricity such as natural gas.

The simple act of defrosting your fridge, for example, will make it more efficient for a few days to a few weeks - enough time for greenhouse-gas-spewing coal plants to react, especially if millions of appliance users do it.

As for the argument that Earth Hour is only symbolic, well the time for symbolism is over.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Rio declaration on sustainability. Surely, it is time for action on a low-carbon economy - and not just token support. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the spirit of Earth Hour. But let's do it in a way that actually cuts carbon, and not just talks about it.

Dennis Posadas is the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable. His latest project is the Greenthinkingfable (