30 March 2012

Earth Hour & Apathy

Tomorrow, 31st March 2012, marks 'Earth Hour' - the global initiative organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to encourage people across the world to switch off their lights for an hour.  The first Earth Hour took place in Australia in 2007 and over the following years has expanded to include participation by millions of people across 135 countries. Here in Oman the event has been championed by ESO, with landmark buildings like the Royal Opera House Muscat agreeing to dim their lights between 8.30 - 9.30pm.

Earth Hour is designed to raise awareness of sustainability issues and to send a message for action on climate change.  Whilst I'm all for raising awareness, we have to ensure that that awareness leads to real action and change.  My concern is that initiatives like Earth Hour actually allow a lot of people to simply feel like they've done their bit. It assuages their guilty conscience and they carry on as normal until next year. One hour, annually, of turning out the lights is not going to make any difference.  People need to live the changes. A token gesture is not enough.  I personally will not be taking part in Earth Hour. Not in protest and not because I would find it difficult to sit by candlelight for an hour, but simply because I don't believe that me switching everything off for an hour changes anything. I prefer to be aware of my energy usage every day and to do my best to save resources at all times.

I don't mean to denigrate those who do take part, and I do think awareness raising is crucial, but I do want to make it clear that people need to do so much more.  It often feels to me like I am surrounded by complete apathy.  So many people talk a lot but so few are willing to actually do anything.  Whilst social media can be a powerful networking tool, it seems also to have bred a generation of people who think that by Facebook 'liking' something they have made a difference. They may, in some abstract way, be showing their support for a cause, but they're changing absolutely nothing.  The petition to stop Lulu selling sharks is a case in point. Many people 'liked' the link to it on Facebook but didn't actually sign it! I don't care about being 'liked', I care about making a difference - and so should you!

On that note, Happy Earth Hour and, remember, "Be the change you wish to see in the world..."


Anonymous said...

Surely your blog is just awareness raising too? In which case the same critical arguments could be made about you and it; that you're not actually changing or achieving anything by writing a few words that reach a very limited audience every now and then. Could your time be better used doing something more worthwhile or beneficial than writing a blog?

I'd be interested to know what else you do to protect the environment other than write your blog? If you do live in Salalah as your profile states then it's highly unlikely that you recycle your waste, it's more than likely that you drive a car everywhere you go etc.

While you may not be apathetic like some, you could possibly be seen as hypocritical? That said, I admire what you write and hope you'll keep up the good work, whether it's actually making a difference or not.

Anonymous said...

I love how attackers are always anonymous.


Deepti Rao Gupta said...

Well.. Your post this time seems a little pessimistic.. We admire the work you do, both through the blog and otherwise.. So , this view was a little surprising..not that what you are saying is totally wrong..
Yes, just switching off your lights for an hour in a year wont make a difference, if viewed from the point of view of energy conservation, but surely it does raise an awareness about wastage of electricity and the next time they leave the room, I believe, he/she will definitely switch off the light! I don't expect that tomorrow after the Earth hour EVERYBODY becomes energy-conscious, but even if it brings about a change in one person, one family.. that is still a job well done. Change happens slowly.
Facebook is a very powerful platform and we have seen the type of social change it has brought about in the recent years. A 'like' usually just means they agree with you. Suggesting practical ideas to be more eco-friendly & day-to-day things to save energy on your facebook page might bring about a more practical change in thought & action, the 'like' would still mean the same - they like your idea, but they might be more likely to implement it. Just a thought.
Hope this steers you back into having a candle-lit dinner tomorrow!

Dhofar Eco Bug said...

Anon – you may be right that my blog is largely awareness raising, but it also aims to be much more than that. Perhaps it is not always successful (I am one person in a foreign country, doing what I can) but it has always been my aim that the blog serves as a catalyst for action. The reason I started my blog in the first place is because I found no outlet for action within existing organisations. I wanted there to be a way for like-minded people to get together for campaigning activities on a day-to-day basis. Through this blog I have initiated a petition to stop the sale of sharks at Lulu, I am planning a presentation about the Arabian leopards of Jebel Samhan, I am campaigning to stop the construction of a navy dock at Mirbat and I am working towards a ‘no plastic bags’ event. I’m not claiming that I’m single-handedly changing the world, but at least I’m trying. Many people claim to be concerned about the same things but do nothing.

The point of this particular post was to highlight that Earth Hour is not enough and that people need to initiate change in their daily lives. I already try to do this to the best of my abilities. For example, I never accept plastic bags (instead taking my own eco-carriers). No, I don’t currently recycle but only because there is no means to here (one of the things I desperately want to see change). It pains me every time I put my rubbish in the bin, but I have no alternative. I do keep my cans for an Indian guy who collects them, but please tell me how I can recycle when there is no facility for it? At home in the UK I always recycle. Yes, I drive a car here but there is no other realistic way to get around. Again, in the UK where there is a good public transport system, I utilise it the vast majority of the time.

I have always been an advocate of volunteering and, again, this is something I wish was more common in Oman. Here in Salalah you are hard pressed to find any kind of charity or NGO to which you can offer help. Over the years I have volunteered in India (working with slum children), with a Hospice in Romania and with a drugs project in the UK. Currently I volunteer on a Frankincense project collecting and analysing weather data as part of a larger study into how to harvest resin sustainably.

I’m not against Earth Hour. I just wish that the big organisations like ESO had other more effective ways of getting people involved on a day-to-day basis. There are people who want to take action but the momentum is being lost because the organisations that could so easily harness it fail to.

Thanks to my blog I have met and hosted many people who are working on conservation issues in Oman. In being able to provide support to visiting teams I am also playing a small part in the success of their respective projects. I hope we can all work together for a better future!

Dhofar Eco Bug said...

Deepti – I’m sorry if my views seem pessimistic. Perhaps I have wrongly taken out my frustrations on a single event, however, I still think there is at least some truth in what I say. You’re absolutely right that Facebook is a powerful platform, but I think it depends on how it’s used. In ‘liking’ a petition the implication is that the person agrees with it – so why the hell not sign it? This is what makes me angry. Saying you agree with me doesn’t help, signing the petition does! There are a lot of dedicated individuals who are working hard in Oman to change things. Take Nasser Al Kindi, for example, who pioneered Clean-Up Oman, resulting in the nation’s biggest ever clean-up with thousands of people taking part. What I ask myself though is why are individuals mostly shouldering the burden alone? Why aren’t the big organisations who are funded, who have paid employees and who exist for this very reason, doing anything even close to this scale? Honestly, what I’m frustrated about is that ESO have made Earth Hour into a major deal, whilst offering pretty much nothing else for people to do the rest of the year. What ongoing campaigns are there? What can people get involved in day-to-day? Nothing! So perhaps my anger lies less with Earth Hour and more with the fact that, as usual, the momentum of Earth Hour wont be utilised to go Beyond The Hour! In fairness that isn’t the fault of the individuals taking part, so perhaps I could have worded my post differently. It is not always easy to be optimistic about the state of the world though…

Anonymous said...

Earth hour is ridiculous.

As a women living in the Middle East, I find it a dangerous concept. And was terrified when the UAE participated 'proudly' in it.

With all the Asian (Indian) men milling about..it is a perfect opportunity to rape and harass females further.

Earth hour in the Gulf should be abandond for public safety, not to mention the risk it puts to motorist and the general public in terms of health for Air Con etc.

Reduce for a week is a better idea. It would teach better long term habits and there would be more opportunity to educate people properly about what saving energy and resources really means in ones life.

Turning off power for a night is a green wash..has no meaning and it's stupid all around.