ON Saturday 28 March at 8.30 pm an estimated one billion people in 1,858 cities and towns in 81 countries will voluntarily switch off their lights for sixty minutes as part of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Earth Hour.
This mass collective action is seen as sending a signal to politicians to take action on climate change. While such events create mass public awareness the message can quickly fade in the public consciousness once the event has passed.
The 1985 Live Aid organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia was the first event that galvanised the global public to take action. Since then we have seen Live 8 in 2006 held to raise awareness as part of the Make Poverty History Campaign. In 2007 we saw the Live Earth event which brought together a global audience to combat the climate crisis. We have also seen events organised by Nelson Mandela’s charity to raise awareness about AIDS. All these events do some good in raising awareness but whether awareness results in sustained action is a different story.
When it comes to the environment many individuals are green is some way whether motivated by saving money, reducing waste or saving the planet. The UK Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has developed a model that divides the public in the seven distinct groups based on a set of attitudes and beliefs towards the environment.
Around 7 million people are described as “Positive Greens” who are willing to do as much as they can to reduce their impact. Unfortunately, there is a similar number who are not bothered about the future of the planet as they are engrossed in their own lives. While there are about 5.7 million people who are concerned but cannot voluntarily move to greener behaviours with some help or incentive. The different types of individuals and their attitudes are described below:
Positive Greens (18%: 7.1 million)
I think it is important that I do as much as I can to limit my impact on the environment
Honestly disengaged (18%: 7.4 million)
May be there’ll be an environmental disaster, maybe not. Makes no difference to me, I’m just living life the way I want to.
Concerned Consumers (14%: 5.7 million)
I think I do more than a lot of people. Still going away is important; I’d find that that hard to give up. Well I wouldn’t, so carbon offsetting would make me feel better.
Cautious Participants (14%: 5.6 million)
I do a couple of things to help the environment. I’d really like to do more, well as long I saw others were.
Sideline Supporters (14%: 56 million)
I think climate change is a big problem for us. I know I don’t do much about how much water or electricity I use, and I forget to turn things off. I’d like to do a bit more.
Stalled Starters (10%: 4.1 million)
I don’t know much about climate change. I can’t afford a car so I use public transport. I’d like a car though.
Waste Watchers (12%: 5.2 million)
Waste not, want not, that’s important, you should live life thinking about what you are doing and using.
Time and money are issues they often come up when discussing greener lifestyles. If we did not have to work so much then perhaps we could devote more time to reducing our impact on the planet such as having an allotment, composting and doing more cycling and walking. Unfortunately many of us have to work to pay the bills.
The biggest outgoing is the rent or mortgage. If we had free accommodation or our mortgages were paid off then perhaps we could then work less and have more time to be greener. However, some would see these reasons as excuses. The DEFRA model shows the complexity of human behaviour and the different things which motivate us and which decide whether we are willing to be green or not.
Earth Hour is a major step in creating a blanket public awareness of the urgency and importance of the issue. However, once the razzmatazz is over then the real work begins. We need to communicate the message to individuals with different mindsets in a way convinces them to take action. That is why every hour is Earth hour.