Three years ago Christchurch was the first city in New Zealand to officially celebrate Earth Hour. A crowd of 2000 gathered in Cathedral Square to watch the lights go out, while around the city , others were taking part in their own homes.
This year there has been very little mention of Earth Hour in our newspapers, although I believe it is being celebrated elsewhere in New Zealand. There are no lights - and no people - in Cathedral Square - Civil Defence personnel and construction workers aside - and there hasn't been for the last month. Many residents went without all power for a period lasting from a couple of days to two weeks or more. In the south and east of the city, we have an electricity grid that is cobbled together from "extension leads" due to the many breaks in underground cables. Rather than turning lights off, we are being asked to conserve power so that the lights can stay on. Not just for an hour, but on an ongoing basis.
The Earth Hour organisers this year are asking people to go "beyond the hour" and make a more permanent commitment. Perhaps conserving power will cause the citizens of Christchurch to change their habits more permanently. More likely, there will be a rebound in electricity usage once the network is restored, as people indulge in pleasures they have gone without in the meantime.
I'm not convinced that in New Zealand, where we have non-polluting hydro-electric power, greenhouse gas emissions are significantly affected if we turn off a light or two. Of course, some of our power stations are coal-fired, so keeping our consumption down is probably a good thing. However a large part of our emissions come from agriculture. Scientific research into improved farming methods is far more likely to help the planet. And on a personal level, reducing our use of motor vehicles seems to me to be far more important.
Aside from forced savings due to earthquake-hit infrastructure, my biggest change this year will be to leave my job on the other side of town - the one I do two days a week at present. I'll be working more days at my other job, and will be endeavouring to walk to work more often. Not, if I am truthful, to help the planet - though that's a beneficial side effect - but because I enjoy the exercise, and because it's healthy. Ultimately, I think people change their habits more easily if there is some personal side benefit. That's the real challenge - to give people motivation to change their habits, other than the feel-good factor of maybe saving the planet, ten years or twenty years or a hundred years in the future.