Questioning Earth Hour and a reminder to beware the candles


It’s that time of year again. Earth Hour 2009 will be celebrated from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. (your local time zone) this Saturday, March 28.

Last year I wrote about Earth Hour and asked everyone to participate and turn off his/her lights for just one hour. I also gave tips for making it a fun family event, and, without giving it too much thought, suggested lighting candles as an alternate lighting source. The problem with this idea has come to my attention since then on more than one occasion, but most recently Crunchy Chicken wrote about the negative impact of paraffin candles in her Earth Hour bashing post.

For those of you not intimately knowledgeable about standard paraffin candles, paraffin is essentially hydrocarbon, or a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight from crude oil. Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting. In other words, for every paraffin candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.8 g of carbon dioxide.

That’s a rather disturbing thought, no?

She continues,

Beeswax candles, on the other hand, can be considered “carbon neutral” in the sense that, even though it produces carbon dioxide when burned, it’s carbon that is naturally cycled through the ecospheric carbon cycle – not from fossil fuel.

So if you do plan on burning candles this year while participating in Earth Hour (or really if you plan to burn candles at all anytime), please make sure they are beeswax candles. An even better option though is to just hang out in the dark for an hour. :)

Aside from the candle issue, I have to admit I’m torn on the efficacy of Earth Hour. While I believe it has the power to affect change, I think if people, businesses, corporations and governments just do this one thing – turn out their lights for one hour – without changing any other of their habits, it’s really moot. And I question how many people are doing it just to be a part of something trendy and make themselves feel good. Turning out our lights for an hour isn’t going to solve global warming. However, if everyone uses Earth Hour as a springboard to take another step and another step and find little changes they can make to live greener and more sustainably, then it’s a great thing.

I’m trying to lean towards optimism rather than pessimism and keep the hope that each and every person who participates in Earth Hour is not doing it just to pat them self on the back for one evening, but that he/she realizes this is only the first step of many (MANY!!) to make a real difference in the future of our Earth.

Like I said in my post last year,

Earth Hour doesn’t have to end at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, you can incorporate it into your everyday life by doing little things like:

  • turn off lights when you leave a room;
  • switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs;
  • turn off appliances when not in use;
  • unplug things like cell phone chargers, the toaster, microwave and TV when they aren’t in use;
  • use less hot water;
  • switch to green power.

So what say you? Are you in? And what steps do you/will you take beyond turning off your lights on Saturday night?