Earth Hour 2013 celebrated in Pakistan with public skepticism, mocking

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 24, 2013.

Islamabad – In countries around the world, including Pakistan, people celebrated Earth Hour on March 23 by switching off their lights for an hour from 8:30pm to 9:30pm.

Earth Hour is a global initiative, partnered by the World Wildlife Fund, that seeks to raise awareness about environmental issues among people by inviting them to turn out their lights for an hour on March 23 every year.

In 2013, Earth Hour’s “I Will If You Will” campaign asked individuals and organizations to challenges others to positive action for the environment by making a commitment beyond the 60 minutes.

Energy is one of Pakistan’s two biggest problems, Gul Najam Jamy, assistant country director of United Nations Development Programme-Pakistan, said. But unfortunately there is no debate or discourse on our energy problems, Jamy said.

“Turning off lights for Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture which can easily be replicated around the world,” Jamy said. “The benefit is that it raises awareness about our energy use and it gives us a moment to reflect on what we are doing to prevent environmental and energy crises.”

But in Pakistan, where citizens regularly experience electricity outages due to a power crisis that has resulted in a 4,500 Megawatt shortfall in energy, the Earth Hour quickly became a butt of jokes for some.

Pakistanis on Twitter especially mocked the idea of the serious environmental initiative being celebrated in the country.

One Pakistani man, Zuhair Merchant ‏(@RustAurBone), tweeted, “We celebrate Earth Hour everyday. In #Pakistan, you call it loadshedding. Pfft. #EarthHour2013”. Another tweeter, Yousaf Iqbal who goes by @usafiqbal on Twitter, wrote: “Pakistan celebrates Earth Hour daily for 12 hours. It shall be added into the Guinness Book of World Records.”

But there were some supporters, too.

Nuzhat S. Siddiqi (@guldaar) wrote: “It’s all about going beyond the hour & doing voluntary actions in everyday life that create meaningful change. #EarthHour” and environment activist, Ahmed Rafay Alam tweeted, in connection with Pakistan’s energy sector, “But most distressing is lack of civil society interest. Too many complain only of loadshedding while not examining issues.”

What Pakistanis do not realize is that one reason for load shedding is the unchecked use of electricity, Jamy said.

“There are many people who do not pay electricity bills in this country so others who pay bills but do not get electricity 24/7 suffer,” Jamy said. “We must assess of our energy needs, conduct energy audits and cut down inefficient usage.”

As Pakistan grapples with issues of power generation, energy conservation has not been high on the government’s priority list. The Energy Conservation Law 2011, which promised energy audits and penalties for violators, got returned to the ministry from the parliament twice. It ended up languishing in the ministry files as the government completed its five-year term.

However, internationally the Earth Hour has helped create a difference.

“Earth Hour has always been more than a lights off campaign, and we are now seeing some extraordinary environmental outcomes on the way to achieving our long-term vision,”Andy Ridly, the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Earth Hour, said according to a statement available on Earth Hour’s website.

Ridly was referring to steps taken by governments around the world, as a result of Earth Hour campaigns by citizens, such as the Russian parliament’s law to protect the country’s seas from oil pollution and the Ugandan government’s initiative against deforestation.

The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 where residents and businessmen switched off lights for an hour in the evening. Over the next six years, Earth Hour has grown to be “the world’s largest movement for the planet.”

In 2012, for example, millions of people from around 7,000 cities and towns across 152 countries took part in the global event, according to the Earth Hour website.

This year again, millions participated in raising awareness about environmental concerns humans across the globe face together. Some of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building in New York and the Eiffel Tower, also plunged in darkness as part of the campaign.

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