I recently read an interesting article on the Newcastle Herald website titled “Newcastle band Seabellies do their bit for Earth Hour“.

The article described how The Seabellies, a relatively successful local band, were travelling to Melbourne to play a gig on Saturday night. Realising that the gig would coincide with Earth Hour, they planned to participate by turning off the lights at some point during their performance.

The Seabellies

The Seabellies

Steph Setz, keyboard player, said the Seabellies would switch the lights off for at least one song and rely on a crowd armed with glow sticks to provide light.

The Newcastle Herald article received some particularly thought provoking comments from members of the public including this one from “James”:

The entire band drives/flies all the way to Melbourne and back in the space of 2 days and then claims to be supporting the principles behind Earth Hour? They even have the audacity to state that “every little bit, at work and home, counted when it came to cutting carbon emissions”. Astonishing hypocrisy.
Posted by James, 23/03/2010 3:39:54 PM

This got me thinking … about just how much carbon dioxide does a light bulb generate compared to travelling by car or air? With this question in mind, I used an online greenhouse gas emissions calculator to calculate the impact of the band’s travel to Melbourne.

Smokestack

What I found was that the band will generate about 1 tonne of CO2 emissions if they drive two small petrol driven cars to Melbourne and back. Alternatively, if all 6 members chose to fly, they will generate about 3 tonnes of CO2.

Compare this with emissions caused by lighting. The electricity that powers a modern light globe creates about 10 grams of CO2 per hour. Driving the band to Melbourne and back would create as much emissions as leaving a light globe on for 100,000 hours! If they fly then they’ll generate as much CO2 as a light globe would in 300,000 hours, or an astonishing 34 years of operation!

The relative impact of a single fossil fuel powered journey far outweighs any savings that could be made by switching off a few light bulbs for an hour. Unfortunately I think the relative magnitude of the contributions of various daily activities to ones carbon footprint is lost on most Australian citizens.

Qantas 767

Air travel can generate a surprising amount of CO2 per journey

I should point out that this blog post is not intended to be critical of The Seabellies themselves. Indeed, my own band, Erin, has travelled similar distances for gigs in the past. For example, in March 2008 we travelled over 4000 km in two cars through regional NSW and Victoria to attend the Port Fairy Folk Festival. Additionally, I am very fond of international travel and dread to think what the carbon footprint of my history of air travel would be.

What concerns me here is the way that many Australians are seemingly unwilling to modify their lifestyle in order to reduce emissions. Even worse, I believe that events such as Earth Hour can make people complacent, leaving them with a sense that they have done something substantial to reduce their emissions. This false sense of accomplishment may make it easier for them to justify not making any additional changes to their lifestyle on the other 364 days of the year.

I think we should be using Earth Hour to highlight the impact of ALL our daily activities on our carbon footprint.

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is going to take more than just turning off some lights for an hour.

Seabellies image courtesy of Michael Spencer. Smokestack image courtesy of Colin Purrington. Boeing 767 image courtesy of superciliousness.