REACTION: The meaning behind Earth Hour
In a recent edition of Australia’s National newspaper, The Australian, Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish academic perhaps best described as an “environmental skeptic”, wrote an article critical of Earth Hour. His argument was based on 2 key premises: first, that turning off our lights for 1 hour will cut our emissions by a miniscule amount and second, that by doing so we “mock” the hundreds of millions of people the world over who don’t even have the option of turning off their lights, as they live without electricity.
With regards his first point, in principle he’s right. But Earth Hour has never been about turning our lights off for 1 hour to “save” electricity or cut emissions—it is a call to arms. It’s about sending a powerful message to the world that climate change is real and imminent, and that steps need to be taken now to reduce emissions, to lessen our collective contribution to that change and to protect our natural assets such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Triangle, that are at risk from that change.
His second point, while well intended, ignores the fact that many of the world’s poorer communities live adjacent to these iconic marine assets that are at greatest risk from the effects of climate change, but yet these same peoples have little or no ability to make a difference.
I want to talk more about that but first let’s revisit the issue of resilience – a term used to describe how hardy, flexible, strong, and resistant a system is to change. This year in Australia, the attention for Earth Hour was focused on the Great Barrier Reef – “Lights out for the Reef” – but it could just as easily been focused on the reefs of the Coral Triangle. As many readers of this article will know, the resilience of major coral reef ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef and reefs across the Coral Triangle are under threat from multiple impacts. The key message that must be continually asserted is the importance of maintaining the resilience of this reef ecosystem by reducing threats to it and managing for climate change.
In the places where WWF works, resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts take on an even more urgent tone and acute meaning.
The Coral Triangle is an area of 6 million km2 spanning the waters of Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. It is home to fully 30% of the world’s coral reefs, while 75% of reef-building coral species and 40% percent of coral reef fish species can be found in the area. More than 130 million people depend on its oceans for their food, their livelihoods and their shelter. In some coastal communities, more than 80% of a household’s nutrition and income is derived from the oceans. They are much less resilient to effects of climate change than developed countries like Australia would ever be.
A 2010 report completed by the University of Queensland for WWF examined impacts on the Coral Triangle under different climate change scenarios. Even under a best case scenario, increased ocean temperatures, ocean acidity and rising sea levels will threaten millions living in coastal communities. Poverty will increase, food security will deteriorate, local economies will decline and urban migration will increase, creating a whole new set of environmental and social issues.
These possible outcomes are made worse by the fact that these countries have poor governance systems in place to protect the resources and adjacent coastal communities. This is why most of WWF’s work in the Coral Triangle region is focused on strengthening regional cooperation to improve governance and management of marine resources (for example by helping to set up functional marine protected areas), increase private sector investment to maintain sustainably these resources which underpin seafood supply chains, and raise the profile of these special places and threats they face at a global scale.
But today, here, the challenge is to remind people that Earth Hour IS about more than turning off your lights. Earth Hour is a reminder that all of us, individuals, businesses, corporations and governments have a responsibility to think about the choices we make and to take action to make sure governments and industry hear our concerns and act as responsible agencies and entities on behalf of all citizens – locally, nationally and globally.
This is a modified version of a speech given by WWF’s Dr Geoffrey Muldoon at the 2014 Earth Hour event held in Townsville, Queensland.