At 8.30 tonight it is Earth Hour in the UK – our timeslot in a worldwide initiative led by WWF to get everyone to turn the lights off for the same hour to make a point about energy consumption and climate change. I like the idea and took part last year. This year I have plans to go out which were arranged long before I realised and so we won’t be home to turn the lights off and it’s a big ask to get the babysitter to do it. But anyway, that’s not the point I want to make. What this made me ponder was the gap between the pledge that you make when you join a campaign and changes in peoples' actual behaviour.
Social and environmental campaigns have gone global over the last few years and there always seems to be a big media event trying to capture our attention. Whether it be Red nose day or Race for life, there are plenty of good causes to pledge your allegiance to. But this is my problem: while effective communication is great, what is the long term impact of getting people to buy a bracelet or switch their lights out for an hour? My worry is that, just by pledging, we actually feel we’ve done our bit.
I have two examples to illustrate this point. The first was that big sexy Make Poverty History campaign which attracted the world’s most famous to front the ads and click their fingers. I always remember with a wince that moment when Will Smith started clicking in rhthym with a massive concert audience in Philadelphia to illustrate the pace of child mortality in Africa – that kind of dumbed death down a bit too much for me.
But there were other awful moments – most memorably the celebrity endorsements. There were posters of various famous types looking serious in white shirts and wristbands all with the simple tag: Make Poverty History. The one that stood out particularly for me was of Ashley Cole. I was struck by the incongruity of a premiership footballer who earns £35,000 a week standing there telling me to do my bit for poverty. It seemed the most enormous hypocrisy, and yet, because he had pledged himself, had lent his name, he was therefore helping write off third world debt. Making poverty history takes quite considerable more work than that in real life – it takes diplomacy, legislation, cancelling national debts, capacity building and equality measures – some of which Bono might have had a hand in, but Ashley Cole wouldn’t have been seen for dust. Needless to say, a few years on and poverty has somehow not been made history and Ashley is still living in a £7.5 million mansion near Haslemere in Surrey (well he was until Cheryl kicked him out).
And then there is my own tale of shame. Earlier this year, alongside Colin Firth, the Conservative party and other celebrity tree huggers, I signed up to 10:10, the big campaign to reduce carbon emissions in the UK by 10%. Nice idea. Nice website (http://www.1010uk.org/). I took the test and worked out what I needed to do to make my 10% reduction in carbon that I had promised to do. I know I need to insulate the loft with 400mm depth lagging and I need to replace two windows. But three months and a £300 gas bill later, I have done nowt about it. So it is now time to bridge that say/do gap and get my arse in gear, because if I don’t get that insulation up, then effectively I am no better than Ashley Cole: lending my name to a cause but actually doing sod all about it.
Tonight I wish Earth Hour all the best, but rather than leave the babysitter in the dark, my Earth Hour pledge is to work harder at reducing my everyday energy usage and actually do something about climate change rather than just talk about it.