Science

Does 'Earth Hour' Actually Save Any Power?

By Sean Kane , Mar 18, 2013 06:05 PM EDT
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On March 23, one billion people will turn off their lights for an hour, between 8:30 and 9:30 PM as part of the international “Earth Hour.”

But what will this actually accomplish? And more importantly, will it actually conserve any power?

An essay from the Project Syndicate written by Bjorn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, an environmental research center, explains that Earth Hour is little more than a short pat on the back for the world citizens lucky enough to afford access to electricity. As it turns out, Earth Hour actually uses more power than it conserves, releasing even more CO2 emissions.

Turning out the lights for an hour does save some electricity, but that amount is tiny.

“Hypothetically, switching off the lights for an hour would cut CO2 emissions from power plants around the world. But, even if everyone in the entire world cut all residential lighting, and this translated entirely into CO2 reduction, it would be the equivalent of China pausing its CO2 emissions for less than four minutes,” Lomborg writes.

And while turning out our lights for an hour will momentarily reduce our carbon footprint, the surge required to power all those lights back on at the end of that hour will take back any gains we’ve made in the name of “Earth Hour.”

Adding insult to injury is all the candles that will be burned in place of residential light bulbs. Candles still burn fossil fuels, and are far less (100 times less) efficient than incandescent bulbs. As Lomborg points out, “using one candle for each switched-off bulb cancels out even the theoretical CO2 reduction; using two candles means that you emit more CO2.

Instead of this "let them eat cake" mentality, with those fortunate enough to afford consistent power eating dinner by candlelight (which doesn't even help), Lomborg calls for more green research and development. It's doesn't feel as good, but it could make a much bigger difference.

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