Saturday, we’ll see Earth Hour where million of people will turn off the lights and other electrical gadgets for a short hour and hopefully contemplate our role in climate change. To spread awareness about this event, environmentalists are turning to social media. A move that creates, according to the Times of India, an ironic outcome:
With every email, every tweet, every appeal watched on YouTube or “liked” on Facebook, environmentalists are stoking the very problem they want to resolve. Each time we network, we emit carbon dioxide (CO2) through the fossil fuels which are burned to power our computers and the servers and databanks that store or relay our message….[But] Just how climate-damaging is the internet? By comparison with other sectors, not very — and it can be argued that the Internet saves carbon which would otherwise be emitted in snail mail, phone calls or travel to face-to-face meetings.
This is the problem with carbon counting as a strategy to deal with global climate change: It confuses the issue. The problem is a fossil fuel built energy and transportation system. And every little bit does contribute: Walk instead of driving, turn off lights, be aware of your electricity use. But, this isn’t a problem of us sending too much email, it is a problem of us sending up too much GHGmail.
I think carbon counting is a great way to raise awareness in many parts of the population, but for those of us aware of the problem, it is ok to keep the eye on the culprit. The fossil fuel economy needs to be transformed entirely and that will require some costs, some tradeoffs, and some difficult choices for all of us. However, it isn’t going to require us to stop receiving tweets, Facebook updates, and sending emails. And painting the picture that way is likely to distract more and more of the young generation to the serious environmental and sustainability challenges we have.
Regardless: Earth Hour, Saturday March 31st, 2012. 8:30-9:30. Turn out the lights for a short time.