Friday 27 March 2009

Ep 102: Earth Hour

Earth Hour is a WWF initiative where individuals, businesses and governments turn off their lights for one hour to show their support for action on climate change. It is a symbolic event designed to engage people in the climate change discussion in order to send a strong message to political leaders that we want them to take meaningful action on climate change. It claims to be the largest climate event in history and it is hoped that one billion people around the world will participate - not bad for an event that started quite small in Sydney a few years back!

Sign up for Earth Hour

The focus of Earth Hour 2009 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Copenhagen. This conference will create a post-Kyoto Protocol international agreement to tackle climate change. This year, Earth Hour takes place on Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 8:30 pm-local time. Just like New Years Eve, Earth Hour will travel from time zone to time zone starting at 8:30pm in New Zealand.

This week on the podcast I chat to the Mayor of Willoughby City Council in Sydney, Councillor Pat Reilly, about the Earth Hour activities his council is putting on and how Willoughby is combating climate change. Interesting points include:
  • The Council is launching its ClimateClever campaign at the festival;
  • Willoughby is committed to assisting its community to reduce its carbon footprint by at least 15% from 2006 levels by the end of 2015 - far better than the Australian federal government targets of a reduction of 5% by 2020;
  • The Council itself is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 1999 levels by the end of 2010.
In the second half of the podcast, I talk to Dr Ben McNeil, a Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre in the University of New South Wales. This interview is a cut-down version of a longer one I will put out in the coming weeks. Ben is a highly impressive young scientist who, after completing his PhD in 2001, worked as a research fellow at Princeton University before taking up his post at UNSW. In 2007, he was chosen as an expert reviewer for the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change and briefed his work to the Prime Minister. Ben and I chatted climate change science, policy and energy.

Listen to his podcast here:

I'd also like to make a comment about an opinion piece that came out today in The Australian newspaper Hour of no power increases emissions by Bjørn Lomborg, who is the director of the think tank Copenhagen Consensus Centre. Lomborg is a controversial bloke - check out his wikipedia page - who opposes the Kyoto Protocol and other measures to cut carbon emissions in the short-term, and argues that we should adapt to short-term temperature rises and spend money on research and development for longer-term environmental solutions.

He said in the article:

"Unfortunately, this event - as with many public proposals on climate change - is an entirely symbolic gesture that creates the mistaken impression that there are easy, quick fixes to climate change.... Even if a billion people turn off their lights this Saturday, the entire event will be equivalent to switching off China's emissions for six short seconds.... The campaign doesn't ask anybody to do anything difficult, such as coping without heating, airconditioning, telephones, the internet, hot food or cold drinks."

Well, he is correct in a practical sense, but for me he misses the point of the whole exercise. Of course Earth Hour in itself doesn't much reduce emissions. But by the same token, the 40-Hour Famine doesn't in itself save people living in poverty and starving. Both these exercises are mainly about raising awareness and showing politicians we care about the topic (and to raise some money too). There may be no quick-fix to climate change, but unless we pressure them, politicians and industry representatives won't take the steps needed to develop any solutions at all. In case you haven't noticed, many governments around the world are using the current financial crisis as an excuse not to do anything about climate change. The problem is however, that even if we go into a economic depression for 10 years, climate change is going to be around for hundreds. Governments are so short-sighted and various parts of the community so scared of change that no one is willing to take the plunge to do anything real about climate change. I agree with Lomborg that there are no easy solutions and we must look at longer-term fixes, but unless we get the entire community on-board, then governments have shown that they won't do much - just look at our own Australian government's weak emission targets. Market forces will not solve our climate change problems in time, which is why we need to pressure governments to implement measures such as a carbon-tax and to fund renewable energy projects so that we can make the market work for us, not against us. And we need to convince industry it's nothing to be scared of - various industries were worried that the introduction of OH&S laws in the 1980s would be bad for productivity without seeing that a safe work-place is better for growth as well as staff. Anyway, Earth Hour is about raising awareness and making it impossible for governments and industry to do nothing. End rant.

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