The Earth Hour Dilemma

All the lights in UNMC were out, and the campus was only lit by candles, held by participants of UNMC Earth Hour. For an observer, it was a beautiful sight as hundreds of candles seemed to float in unison along the closed roads, all converging at the Trent Building. The lights shone on, seemingly illuminating the landmark of UNMC, the Trent Building, as the rest of the campus was pitch-black.

UNMC had just concluded its own Earth Hour, a grand event which included a concert, a candle-walk around campus, a maze with a mini environmental pop quiz, environmental movie screenings, food trucks, and – to conclude the night – a rave party hosted by a pair of guest DJs. A grand event that aimed to gather large crowds of people to spread the message of climate change. I must applaud the organizing team behind this year’s Earth Hour for a successfully-ran event.

In UNMC, it seems that the norm is to hold a big event for Earth Hour (with this year’s Earth Hour receiving RM4000 from the SA to subsidize cost), with an evening of entertainment being the main driver of gathering big crowds. This usually leads to questions and concerns that have been raised multiple times in the run-up to Earth Hour – does this not equate to more energy being used up in the efforts to spread awareness of using less? It is certainly ironic that we are using up more energy and, at the same time, telling people to consume less.

The way Earth Hour was executed in UNMC started up a lot of chatter among students, with many arguing that the idea behind Earth Hour is to create awareness amongst a big crowd, and the purpose of the concert and rave party, among other things going on, is to attract and sustain that crowd. By having this large-scale event that reaches hundreds of participants, awareness will be spread to the participants to reduce their carbon footprint. Having attended the event myself this year, I definitely note the efforts made by the organizing committee in order to incorporate sustainable elements into the event. For example, the candles provided for the candle-walk during the blackout period were placed in a pot with seeds which can be grown into a plant; an environmental pop quiz ‘maze’ which tested knowledge of environmental facts; the use of recycled objects to create props; and constant reminders by the emcees to properly dispose and recycle used containers.

Candles lighting up Trent Building

Candles lighting up Trent Building

The highlight of the night would be the candle-walk, when the entire campus shuts down for an hour as participants embarked on a walk around the campus and converged at the Trent Building. However, these efforts to incorporate elements of sustainability into Earth Hour were, in my opinion, overshadowed by the immense amount of energy consumed in having the concert which started as early as 6:30pm, and went on until 10:30pm with an hour allocated for the ‘blackout’ and candle-walk. And just as we thought that the night of music and lights was over, there was a rave party held to keep participants entertained late into the night. It just seemed that many were avoiding the elephant in the room – that the centre of attention for Earth Hour was a large stage set-up with sophisticated sound and lighting systems, illuminating the fountain area of UNMC brighter than the candles that were lit up.

I certainly do not mean to downplay the efforts made to incorporate the themes of climate change and sustainability into this event. Nevertheless, I strongly feel that the efforts and energy used could have been channelled towards more creative ways of creating awareness towards the subject matter. A simple alternative which could perhaps still attract similar crowds to the event was to downsize the sophisticated stage set-up in place, and made it a more acoustic event, rather than having multiple full bands performing, requiring much more energy. This idea sparked in my head as one of the performers, simply a man and his guitar, had the full attention of participants during the event. Another group of invited performers were an acapella group, utilizing only their voices to entertain the crowd. Perhaps if the event was centred on these kinds of performances that require less energy, and had a smaller and more intimate stage set-up, it would be more meaningful in terms of its sustainability and energy usage.

Just a man, and his guitar.

Just a man, and his guitar

Of course, these are suggestions that could perhaps be taken into consideration in the future. The voice and opinions of fellow students cannot be ignored, as the subject of UNMC Earth Hour stirred up many discussions among students across social media. Personally, I feel that in the efforts to attract a big crowd and sustain them for the entire night, the meaning of Earth Hour has been lost as large amounts of energy are being used to host an event that speaks for the very opposite. Whatever awareness that was raised through the event will then be forgotten about as participants rave and party late into the night.

It seems like many groups – not just the organizers of UNMC Earth Hour but in other Earth Hour events as well – are jumping on the bandwagon that is Earth Hour and using it as an excuse to have a big party. As I left the throbbing music and flashing lights towards the relative darkness of my accommodation, I can only wonder whether this event had truly changed anything in a meaningful manner. One can only hope that the relevant officers and organisers alike will look into more creative ways of encouraging students to reduce their carbon footprint in a manner that is less outdated in its ineffectiveness.

Written by Malik Hisyam

Photographs by Malik Hisyam

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the editorial team at IGNITE.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945)

2 Comments

  • March 30, 2017

    Anonymous

    *this comment might sound biased

    Hey Malik, I also hope that next year EH event will be less ironic, more sustainable and reduce carbon footprint. However, as part of this event’s stage committee, I’d said that we tried our best to recruit performances from different background i.e. environmental sketch, traditional instrument player, slam poetry etc from UNMC’s clubs and society to make it more of an “acoustic” event rather than full on concerts with just singing performances. However, due to lack of responses and cooperation, we had to deliberately fill in our stage line-up with singing performances. Personally, I think that EH event should not be another one club event. Solidarity is important when raising an awareness.

  • March 30, 2017

    Aly

    *this comment might sound biased

    Hey Malik, I also hope that next year EH event will be less ironic, more sustainable and reduce carbon footprint. However, as part of this event’s stage committee, I’d said that we tried our best to recruit performances from different background i.e. environmental sketch, traditional instrument player, slam poetry etc from UNMC’s clubs and society to make it more of an “acoustic” event rather than full on concerts with just singing performances. However, due to lack of responses and cooperation, we had to deliberately fill in our stage line-up with singing performances. Personally, I think that EH event should not be another one club event. Solidarity is important when raising an awareness.