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March 30, 2021

What did we gain from Earth Hour? Not much ... yet

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

You’re probably in one of two camps this morning if Earth Hour talk has come up around the office.

You’ve either patted yourself on the back for turning your lights off for an hour this weekend, or you’ve lied right in someone’s face by telling them you did.

Regardless, this isn’t where division in the Earth Hour discussion ends. Saturday night’s global environmental movement was surely well-intentioned but, looking back, what have we learned?

The answer to whether Earth Hour 2009 – where an estimated billion people reduced or removed their power consumption for one hour – was a success isn’t particularly easy to conclude.

In terms of immediate impact on you, Earth Hour likely isn’t delivering much aside from the feeling you may or may not get by joining the crusade against global warming. Shutting off your lights for an hour isn’t going to have much effect on your monthly hydro bill, but you know that already.

And when you dig a bit, it seems Earth Hour may have been more style than substance. Despite millions across Canada taking part, the initiative proved a little counter-productive. Calgary noted no real improvement in its energy consumption Saturday night and Saskatchewan all but yawned at the prospect, boasting “no measurable effect” on the province’s usage during the hour.

Even when there was progress (Toronto’s Earth Hour movement saved about 15% compared to the city’s typical energy consumption), it appears marred in setback. As the Globe and Mail points out, Ontario’s dirty coal-fired plants weren’t even online during Earth Hour. So whatever dip in energy demand there was, that only lead to some of the province’s clean hydro electricity not being used – which, comparatively speaking, doesn’t pose that much environmental harm, anyway.

The Australian even adds fuel to the fire, arguing that the entire cumulative event of Earth Hour is a nice gesture but merely the “equivalent to switching off China’s emissions for six short seconds. In economic terms, the environmental and humanitarian benefits from efforts of the entire developed world (during Earth Hour) would add up to just $21,000.”

So no, there’s not much victory there. Look closer, though.

The boom in awareness of Earth Hour, which grew exponentially from 50 million participants just last year, shows – at the very least – an encouraging mobilization by the world toward environmental issues.

The Globe speculates that global passion will be impossible to ignore by world governments, who may hold the real power to drastically cutting the world’s emissions. With the support of millions nationwide, experts think Canada could be a trendsetter in introducing public policies that would result in far more lasting conservation results. 

Some of those policies could lead each province to lean on its residents to cut down use of “vampire electronics” like plasma TVs, DVD players and microwaves that suck hydro from the grid even when they’re not being used. Environmental leaders also think Earth Hour could help provinces encourage those with central A/C units to install devices that automatically cycle them on and off during peak usage periods, when utilities are more likely to be operating on dirty fossil-fuel-fired power.

This will all mean money off your hydro bill and into your pocket, too.

In typical big city fashion, ever-Green Mayor David Miller staged a self-congratulating rally at his City Hall Saturday night, exclaiming “Torontonians want to do what’s right for the environment because they get it. It’s a privilege to be mayor of a city that gets it.”

Such Earth Hour praise may be a bit premature, but give this thing time. It could be the catalyst to major change, after all.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...