So to the Ugh Boot and the stump-jump plough we can now add Earth Hour as one of Australia’s gifts to the world, as the stunt’s promoters and sponsors are happy to tell us. Too bad the founding city is already losing interest – as Crikey forewarned last week.

Statistics and commissioned surveys are wonderful things, as demonstrated by the World Wide Fund for Nature’s efforts in glossing up its symbol for people’s willingness to do something about greenhouse gases without actually doing anything. But statistics have to be handled carefully.

“In Sydney, polling conducted yesterday suggested 59% of citizens had taken part in Earth Hour, fractionally higher than last year, although the amount of electricity saved by the event appeared to have been slightly less,” reports WWF partner, the SMH.

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One might quibble about the polling, but let’s take the figures at face value. WWF claims Sydney participation increased “fractionally” from 57% in 2007 to 59 % — an increase of 3.5% — but that their idea of “slightly less” electricity saved is a drop of 17.6%. I’d call that somewhat more than “slightly” less.

I’d also take the figures provided by Energy Australia as perhaps more reliable than a quick survey. Last year it was Energy Australia’s 10.2% reduction in CBD electricity for the hour that WWF was boasting about. The fall of more than 17% to this year’s number of 8.4% is less likely to be dwelt upon. Instead, let’s stress the national figure – coming off a zero base outside Sydney, it looks so much more impressive.

So is Sydney just helplessly shallow or is Tinsel Town by its nature more likely to recognise tokenism when it sees it and move on? As a marketing tool for WWF (this whole thing was cooked up in a breakfast meeting with an advertising agency), does it have a limited life expectancy? Will rollerblades make a comeback and when was the last time you saw someone with a hula hoop?

As we ponder these insignificant questions, at least we know not much harm was done to the environment. Or much good either.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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