Hula hoops, yo-yos, wide lapels on polyester body shirts – fads and fashions inevitably go global for a while. And so it is with Earth Hour, the fantastically successful promotion for the World Wide Fund for Nature, right down to the $29.95 WWF t-shirt (“What better way to cool the earth than to wear a really cool Earth Hour t-shirt?”).

From its dubious launch in Sydney last year, WWF is taking the stunt to the world this Saturday night, getting the organisation’s name up in anti-lights, perhaps making some individuals feel good about being part of a group bigger than their MySpace friends list, and providing a marvellous opportunity for massive corporate hypocrisy.

What better symbol for Earth Hour than its AGL-sponsored WWF-logoed hot air balloon furiously burning gas over state capitals. That’s AGL the energy company – the one incinerating countless tonnes of gas and coal and, presumably, part of the electricity lobby pushing the federal government for discounts on the eventual carbon credits.

The conclusion to the Crikey junior science class’s first term assignment reads: An average one hour balloon flight over Melbourne uses approximately 180-200 litres of propane, which burns to form water and carbon dioxide; in addition to the fuel used by the balloon’s ground retrieval crew. We have estimated that the activity to launch and retrieve one hot air balloon uses the equivalent of 378.1 kilograms of greenhouse gas (or 7,562 black balloons). (with apologies to Sustainability Victoria)

Multiply that by the number of sorties the AGL-WWF giant light bulb is making over four state capitals and you get a lot of black balloons – and if you don’t know what a black balloon is, you haven’t seen how Steve Bracks spends his taxpayers’ money on whitegoods greenhouse awareness.

But it’s all good fun as long as it makes people feel good, people like Richard Branson who’s jumped on the bandwagon with all the force of Virgin Atlantic’s 38-strong fleet of jumbo jets. Think about that for a moment. ‘Nuff said.

WWF is using the opportunity to seek donations and lean on corporations to join the circus: “In support of Earth Hour, more than 3,500 businesses across Australia and internationally have so far signed up and will be doing their part and turning off their lights. McDonald’s Australia has committed to turning off its Golden Arches nationally. David Jones will turn off the lights in its 36 department stores.”

In the process, WWF and its fellow travellers continue to push their misleading claims of recording a drop in electricity production during the Sydney event last year – the electricity generators recorded a statistically negligible 1.7% variation for NSW and there’s no accounting for extra greenhouse gas production before and by the event.

The strain for WWF will be if the novelty has already worn off in Sydney just as it exports the fad to the world; we do have a rather short attention span in Sin City.

Like the hula hoop, Earth Hour doesn’t do much harm, just a little deception here, a touch of hypocrisy there, a general warm feeling for tokenism overall, while allegedly delivering “a powerful message about the need for action on global warming”. And if it’s good enough for Charles Windsor to reportedly dim the lights in Highgrove House, well, um, I don’t know really.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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