Earth Hour: To switch on or off?

Eliana Glazer is a 2021-22 Tzedek Fellow, learning about global poverty and international development with a diverse cohort of students and young professionals. Here she writes how Earth Hour is about more than saving the planet:

Electricity is central to all aspects of our lives, from communicating with loved ones to powering our homes. What would happen if you had to go electricity-free for an hour? How many things would you be unable to do without electricity? This was an idea proposed in Sydney in 2007, whereby the entire world switches off their lights for one hour and called this Earth Hour. The reasoning being that it could create a time to think about how much electricity we use, and the adverse effect of its consumption on the climate, and so start a global conversation regarding environmental issues and pollution. This event has been adopted by 190 countries and is growing in popularity every year. Not only does Earth Hour give us a chance to think about our electricity use but also the inequalities which exist around the world, regarding electricity use, and how we can combat this.

“What would happen if you had to go electricity-free for an hour? How many things would you be unable to do without electricity?”

Access to energy is deeply unequal across the globe, with 13% of the world population having no access to electricity (Habitat for Humanity, 2022). For some, electricity access is a novelty whereas for many of us it is a certainty. The question is, why does electricity and energy vary so drastically from place to place? A plethora of factors can be attributed to the electricity divide which exists on a global level, from gender discrepancies, to race related issues and disadvantages of low-income individuals.

Electricity disparities are found throughout the world, in both low and high income countries. If we compare statistics from the US, disparities become apparent. According to the ACEEE, there, 20% more People of Colour experience energy insecurity compared to their white counterparts (2020). African Americans spend a greater proportion of their income on energy and rent, with a whopping 43% more of their income going to energy costs compared to white individuals (ACEEE, 2020). Historically discriminatory housing policies towards black people have left them with older homes which are less energy efficient and more problematic to make energy efficient. Saying this, many communities who face energy inequality hope to move towards community-based ownership of energy to better distribute it to disadvantage communities.

Let us now shift the focus to the gendered dimension of electricity usage and whether this distribution is socially just. It is no surprise that in many cultures, women rely more on electricity use than men, with their primary role being in housework. Even in many Western societies, women have higher electricity footprints from household chores and meal preparation tasks compared to men. Electricity usage is essential for women, with studies suggesting that incomes are much greater for women with energy access, especially in rural communities in low-income nations. This is evident from a study which showed that the existence of a household washer made women 6.4% more likely to get a job but had a negligible impact on men (Robinson, 2020). The benefits of electricity access, which are often related to lighting, include improved well-being and educational attainment, as more time can be devoted to studying, as well as better living conditions more generally.

These examples have illustrated that universal access to electricity is not the case in many swathes of the globe but is crucial to achieve social justice and high quality of life for individuals. This is why the Sustainable Development goals want to ensure universal access to electricity by 2030.

So, by turning our lights off for one hour, on March 26th from 8:30-9:30pm local time, we have not only made an impact on a global scale but started to really think about our consumption of electricity and the privileged position we are in to be able to have electricity at our disposal all the time.

To learn more about acting on global issues like climate change, consider signing up for the next cohort of the Ben Azzai Programme. Deadline to apply: 4th April 2022. Alternatively, read about World Water Day in our previous blog.

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