A new study has shown by encouraging us to switch off lights and cut our energy use, campaigns like Earth Hour could be undermining support for government policies to address climate change.
A team of Japanese scientists looked at 14,000 peoples' support for a carbon tax in Japan and found it dropped by 13 per cent when people were reminded of the energy-saving actions they took themselves during a campaign to curb energy use following the Fukushima nuclear plant shutdown. That's right - the subjects who were randomly assigned to report their energy-saving actions following the shutdown of the Fukushima power plant were less likely to support a tax increase on carbon emissions.
This may be because people started to believe their own actions were more important than government regulation and actually stopped worrying so much about energy and environmental sustainability, the researchers say. It created a perception of progress.
But, as the researchers point out, household actions and government policies are both necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Earth Hour launched in Australia ten years ago, and is now held in 172 countries worldwide. A quarter of Australians take part in the event.
"I think it is worthwhile to note that the situation in Japan in the wake of the 2011 tsunami was very complex," Kerri Major, Climate & Earth Hour Engagement Manager told Gizmodo.
"People in Japan used less electricity because they feared power blackouts such as the ones caused by the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor, and also because of a nationwide campaign to reduce electricity consumption to put less strain on the power supply.
"Earth Hour is a symbolic event in which 187 countries take part (up from 178 in 2016) to demonstrate support for stronger action on climate change. It was borne out of the peoples desire to demonstrate their support in the light of perceived political inaction," Major said. "Today, it is the world’s largest grassroots movement to raise awareness for climate change. So people are switching off for completely different reasons. Supporters of Earth Hour in Australia are very supportive of stronger government policies on climate change."
"And as the researchers point out, we agree that strong action from both individuals and governments are necessary to mitigate climate change. I am not sure we have enough evidence to say that one comes at the expense of the other."