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Earth Hour – Interview with Liz van Gerven

by Eva Amsen

Tomorrow night at 8 PM, thousands of households will switch off their lights and unplug their electrical equipment for an hour in an attempt to become more aware of the enormous amounts of energy we’re consuming on a regular basis. Earth Hour, initiated by the World Wildlife Fund, was first held in Sydney, Australia, last year, and has gone global for 2008.
The idea behind Earth Hour is to emphasize how dependent we are on electricity, where it comes from, and how this impacts the environment. Electricity may feel “clean”, but a lot of it is generated by coal-fired power plants and these are not so clean…

Awareness actions like Earth Hour stand or fall with, well, awareness. Advertising does a good job, but we’re all a little numbed by ads. In the case of noble causes like this, word of mouth and recommendations by friends might work better. Or the 21st century of word of mouth: online social networks.

I first heard of Earth Hour when my friend Liz van Gerven invited me to a Facebook event she created for it. After that, I regularly saw little notifications in my Facebook news feed that other friends were “attending Earth Hour”. But many of these people did not know Liz at all! Her friends were inviting their friends, and the invitations started snowballing. As of this moment more than four and a half million people have been invited to the Facebook event. Of these, over 750,000 are “attending”, and half a million are “maybe attending”. Over a million haven’t replied, and more than two million declined the invitation to turn off the light.
For comparison: only about 250,000 people have registered as participants on the official Earth Hour site.

I talked to Liz about the popularity of Earth Hour on Facebook, and to find out who the two million non-attendees were:

Eva: “When did you create the event page? And why?”

Liz: “I created the page sometime in January after I heard whispers about the upcoming Earth Hour event taking place on Saturday. I watched some YouTube videos about the Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia from last year and was really touched at how everyone came together.”

E: “You started by inviting your own friends, but right now millions have been invited. How fast did it grow?”

L: “It grew really, really fast. I’m still a bit shocked to be honest. Within the first couple of weeks the numbers just nearly doubled every other day. Before this past weekend there were approximately 200 people signing up an hour. This week, that number is over 500 an hour. It’s insane.”

E: “What are some of the reasons you have seen people give for not participating? Are they not understanding the event, or are they not supporting the underlying idea?”

L: “I think the reason for the lack of Attendees is that people don’t read what the event is and they think that they have to go somewhere or put effort into something to participate.”

E: “What have been your favourite reactions so far?”

L: “It’s been funny, however annoying it can be, to read people’s wall posts with their excuses like, “I’m 8 months pregnant, can’t go!” or “I’m visiting my sister that day.” There are still the posts that simply say, “What is this?” and you’ll have the people that know what it is get mad and tell people they are stupid for not reading exactly what it is. I used to reply back to people, but I cannot keep up any more.”

E: “What are you going to do when the lights are off Saturday night?”

L: “I hope to be on a hill somewhere looking towards the south to see if I can see a difference in our light pollution but I’ll probably be here at home, yelling at my brothers to co-operate. Mum will be watching the hockey game so I may have to strap her down away from the television during that hour.”

Thanks, Liz!

More information on Earth Hour can be found in their extensive FAQ.

My personal plans for Saturday night are undecided (aside from switching everything off). I might go outside, go for a walk. I do have a long-term commitment: I”m getting a solar charger for my iPod and cellphone. Not that I think that these two things use that much energy to recharge compared to everything else I own, but because I’m curious if I can keep two tiny gadgets off-grid. If it turns out to be easy, it’ll boost my trust in alternative energy sources. If it turns out to be hard, then I’ll have more respect for the challenge of changing the way we use electricity. It’ll be good either way.


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1 comment

Fiona March 28, 2008 - 3:22 PM

I stilll don’t know if I’ll be “attending” earth hour. I’m sure wherever I’ll be will have some of the lights off or something. But for some reason they’re doing a film screening during earth hour in garema place. Surely that’s also using electrivity and it’s not just about the lights?

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