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Sitting in the dark

I’m not convinced that I’ll participate in Earth Hour. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a terrific idea for raising awareness of climate change and energy issues. But I’m already well aware of those issues, thanks, and I’m working on reducing my emissions every day, not just one hour per year.

And besides, I’m enjoying watching Big Love (and, I’ll admit, Top GearJeremy Clarkson may be an idiot, but he’s a very entertaining idiot) on a Saturday night, and I don’t particularly want to sit in the dark.

The saving in emissions is said to be 5% if you switch off the lights for an hour. But lighting only accounts for 3% of the average household’s emissions. Let’s see that graph again:

Australian average household emissions

Another way of putting it is this: if you save 1kWh of electricity by switching off for an hour (which might be 8 x 100watt lights if you’re still using the old ones and you normally leave ten of them blazing) and a big television, you’ve saved about 1kg of CO2. But the average car will generate that in travelling less than 4 kilometres.

Which means when last weekend I twice travelled by bus to Monash Medical Centre and back (about 7.5km each way, so 30km in total), I actually saved 7.5 times the equivalent of turning off the power for an hour.

I also saved money; it costs $6+ to park there, though now I come to think of it, I spent some money on bus tickets and a snack in the hospital cafeteria. Still ahead overall though, even before taking petrol into account. The problem is I had to put up with 40 minute bus services to do it… which of course is why more people don’t do it.

Businesses participating will make more of a difference. The Age reports: At David Jones, non-essential lights and electrical equipment in 35 stores, offices and warehouses will be switched off. Staff are being asked to ensure all computers and lights in their work space are turned off..

But hold on. This is 8pm on a Saturday, when David Jones stores would be closed. Isn’t all this stuff they should be doing anyway, every night when they’re closed? With the exception of emergency lighting, refrigeration for food, and arguably advertising/shop window displays, at that time of night they should be using hardly any power anyway.

These days, all workplaces should automatically shut off power outside working hours (with overrides if people are working late), including putting computers to sleep if possible.

So anyway, Earth Hour itself will barely make a difference to emissions, especially for households. But in terms of raising awareness, hopefully it makes some impact, and people get better at conserving energy right through the year, not just for an hour.

PS. 10pm.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

13 replies on “Sitting in the dark”

While your points are entirely valid and I couldn’t possibly agree more with them, are you seriously saying it would absolutely shatter your life by switching off your lights for a mere hour?

Don’t you have a CRT television, it’s rear projected you’ll still see whatever it is that’s so important. Candles, glowsticks, or torches would surely suffice for shits sake?!

If it’s so much to ask for people to be in universal agreement to turn off their lights for an hour, damned if this planet has any chance of survival from that absolute parasite of a species known as man.

Fred is making his house heat efficient, Joe is making his place cooling efficient, Angela is avoiding use of a car, Barney has efficient lighting, Peter recycles his water, etc… should every one of them be a snob and not participate in anything simply because they’re already making an effort somewhere else?

Every single man, woman, and child in South Australia has endured one hell of a drought – there isn’t a river, creek or pond with a drop of water in it, gardens and even hundreds year old trees throughout our city are dead, and we’ve all pulled hard yards to conserve… I wonder if this doesn’t perhaps grant this entire state an exception to bothering with turning out their lights, we’re WATER efficient screw electricity?!

I for one am already far more energy efficient than anyone I know (and still hard at work making that even better), yet I’ll be shutting everything off from energy efficient household lights to even the measly LEDs lighting my gardens. It’s a symbol, it’s a token, it’s an act of goodwill that I would be expecting my entire neighbourhood to participate and honour.

Will it achieve savings, sweet FA in my opinion… but what it will hopefully achieve is awareness through PARTICIPATION, everyone seeing that everyone else is taking it seriously.

What we will instead see is blacked out cities, as business is taking this very seriously, but only a household or two per street turning them off – and then back on again minutes later when they see no other sod in their street has bothered :(

Yes, I think your last sentence is the Key Daniel. The ones who are in the know are likely already doing enough, as it is. But it’s a case of widening the base so that we have more to preach to. No use preaching to the converted, in other words. Let’s draw in more with a wide net cast. Then talk about every-day conservation tips: using the sunshine + line to dry clothes instead of the dryer. Using PT instead of car.
The biggest grocery chain here in Eastern Canada is going without plastic shopping bags as of June 1st. Loblaws Inc. and all their subsidaries (tons!) will all require you to either pay for paper bags or bring your own bins and/or bags. Something I’ve been doing for well over 2 years! But many still don’t. So, yes, let’s hope they see the light. :)

Some great points there Chris.

I guess it comes down to: if we accept that the act itself makes little difference to emissions, but the symbolism is important, would anybody notice if I have the lights on or off for an hour? I guess you could argue yes.

But my other concern is: how many people think that turning off the lights for an hour is all they need to do?

You can probably spot that I’m particularly narked that lots of people are thinking about lighting, when easing up on car usage would reduce emissions much more… Your point about water is particularly relevant: people accept conservation of water, but nobody’s really acting that much (yet) with emissions.

>> would anybody notice if I have the lights on or off for an hour?
I’m hoping it will be a big fat YES – if it’s no then it’s a complete waste of time as we both know lighting is almost an irrelevant issue compared to virtually every other matter.

>> how many people think that turning off the lights for an hour is all they need to do?
I’m not sure anyone sees it as that – but if they do then damn that’s a dangerous thought!

>> people accept conservation of water, but nobody’s really acting that much (yet) with emissions
I think everyone is giving considerable thought into their cars these days, but in my opinion only because of prices. It’s quite a common theme now to hear people discussing thoughts on alternatives (either different fuels or smaller vehicles/scooters/etc) – and the good news is that these days when considering anything new, whether it be a car or appliance or whatever, people do now consider the most efficient option. So people are willing, but only exploring or acting through pressures or necessity.

Personally I think running out of oil can’t happen soon enough – probably not a popular opinion though :)

Is the enegry use chart above for a tipical home in Melbourne or Australian homes in general? Here in Miami about 60% to 70% of my electric use during the summer goes to run my central air conditioning. My bill has dropped since I bought a new SEER 12 2 ton Ruud unit. When a new roof was put on my building the new thicker insulation caused the bill to drop even more. This is a very hot and humid climate and no air conditioning would be very miserable in the summer. It is cheaper to cool a home here with central (ducted) air conditioning than it is with several individual units. Most homes in the US have ducted air conitioning. The style of air conditioning I saw in Australia with the indoor unit mounted on the wall is rare in the USA.

I am glad that I will be able to consume less energy and resources and use public transportation living in Melbourne! I start my new life in Melbourne next week!

Some thoughts – and not wanting to contradict your overall excelent points, Daniel.

In Victoria (Aus!) that would be nearer 1.3kg of GHGs for 1kWh of power. Not to be nitpicking, but since it’s 30% more then I think it’s important that people understand HOW nasty that brown coal is that we use to generate electricty in our State.

Electricity should be a prime focus of us ALL in Aussie, at home and work, when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint(s). It IS nearer 1kg of GHG/1 kWh for most other States tho – except good ole Tassie where is much lower because of the hydro? power.

Folks – call up your electricty provider and switch to 100% Accredited Green Power. At 5 cents extra per kWh. For the average Aussie home (15-20kWh per day), that’s less than a dollar per day. Put your hand up if you think helping to save the earth/your grandkids is not worth a dollar a day to you! :-) has the lowdown on which are the ‘greenest’ power providers.

I a bit puzzled with the chart saying only 1% for cooling. I keep reading that it’s all the split/refrigerated aircons that we are installing in our BIG homes which are overloading the grid at peak times. Maybe we don’t use them that much, on average?

Usually, around 4.5 tonnes GHG per year is quoted for the ‘average’ car emissions ( If I compare that to my electricity consumption (15kWh per day) then I get 7.2 tonnes per year. So I reckon power in houses is still significant to climate change and may often be easier to cut down than milage in cars. Not that I’m defending car driving at all. I almost wish peak oil would hurry along too . . .

I too am concerned that folks think that they have ‘done their bit’ when they have installed a few compact fluoros or bought a 4.5 star fridge or even bought a hybrid car. Of course it’s great that they do and it all helps. But we can’t stop there. Maybe they are just first steps and more will follow?

But gee, it is going to take us *all* doing *everything* we can starting *today*. I suspect that it will take many more changes to our lives than even the ‘greenest’ of us are prepared to admit.

Or some great technology will come along that sucks carbon out of the air and turns it into energy and we’ll all carry on as we are. :-)

Jed, these figures are Australia-wide. Some Australian homes have aircon, and units are increasing in number, but in most parts of the country they’re not used a great deal, provided the house is well designed. In Melbourne you might only really need aircon a dozen days a year.

Thanks for that Tony. That link is particularly interesting. I’m writing a followup post on electricity options.

I guess trees can suck carbon out of the air, but they don’t turn it into energy!

> I guess trees can suck carbon out of the air, but >they don’t turn it into energy!

They sort-of do. Wood burns – not as hot as coal, but it still burns. It’s notionally carbon neutral because the CO2 it releases was offset by the tree to begin with. Pity about the particulates..

And if they ever work out how to make biofuels from cellulose or algae…

The level of temperature that people feel comfortable at varies greatly. I like it on the cooler side, so air con for me is perhaps 100 days a year or more, probably compensated by less heating in the winter. I can never recall complaining about being cold, but I sure do about being too hot. By the pie chart, cooling is not such a big problem, far less than I thought it would be.

Don’t know how your place is designed Andrew… a friend of mine lives in an inner-city apartment which is so bad that he’ll have aircon running on days when it’s 25 degrees outside. Thankfully most places aren’t that bad, and aircon will only be needed a handful of hot days per year, which is why the average percentage is so low.

Certainly hotter than anywhere else we have lived. It is an inherent problem with large apartment blocks. I know the student apartment blocks in Carlton are absolute hot boxes. I think with double glazing, most apartment blocks could do away with any heating. There is a core temperature in the centre of the building where the lift, stair well and services are located, in most buildings. It is always a fight against the core temperature.

does anyone have the figures on the greenhouse gas emmisions from candles. i did see lots of press showing people surrounded by 20+ candles all burning madly through earth hour.

i would be interested to see the comparison between compact flouro or LED lighting versus the same level from candles, including the associated environmental costs of production and transport.

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