Sunday, March 29, 2009

My experience with Earth Hour

As the heat in Cambodia peaks during this month, it was hard to imagine not having the fan on for one hour. But with my mind made up to do my small bit for Earth, I persevered and it was actually really pleasant.

I’m not an environmentalist but wish that I am. I don’t think I have any good excuse not to be. I guess I’m just too complacent with the comfort I have. However, in the last few years, I’m gradually beginning to think that I should try to be more environmentally friendly after volunteering for humanitarian organizations.

Although protection of the environment is essentially linked to human rights; right to clean drinking water, clean air, food, etc. I was more involved in the civil and political aspects of human rights. But once I had my first taste of working with humanitarian organizations that deal directly with disaster management, water and sanitation, food security, climate change, etc. I am becoming more aware of the impact of global climate change.

While working in Ethiopia, it was clear how the seasons have changed over the last few years. Droughts are getting longer and so are floods. Even in Cambodia, I’ve heard how many locals lament over the fact that it still rains when it’s supposed to be dry season. In the last few years, one wouldn’t expect a drop of water during the dry season.

For those who live in the cities, especially in developed countries, it’s difficult to feel the drastic effects of climate change. You just need to walk into a supermarket and you’ll see fresh produce in abundance although some may not realise that a lot of the produce are either being imported or results of genetic modification which makes it possible to have seasonal products all year round. But if you live in under-developed countries like Ethiopia and Cambodia, the reality is much closer. Farmers are struggling to grow rice, wheat, vegetables and fruits due to drought and flood which make it impossible for them to cultivate their crops. Due to the change in the seasons, it is difficult for them to predict or expect the level of rainfall and adapt their traditional methods of agriculture to face this challenge.

The implications of climate change are multifold. As we know, the Arctic ice is already melting and as a fan of the great polar bears, I’m saddened by the fact that these animals are paying for our capricious way of life. Whenever I watch a documentary about the environment, I will get angry and I will complain a lot. But then I soon realize that what good does it do to the environment if all I do is complain? So, I decided that this year I will vote for Earth by showing my solidarity so that we can help to preserve what’s left for the generations to come.

When I first brought this idea up with my husband, he was uncertain whether he would be able to cope with the heat. I realized that I needed to approach this strategically because I’m not the type to force someone to do something they don’t want to, but I was convinced that I simply must do something. So, I devised a plan to make it sound attractive and more bearable. I proposed to him to take a one hour bath (he hardly takes a bath in case you think it’s a waste of water!) and I would put up candles, mosquito coils and Chinese paper lanterns to create a pleasant atmosphere.

Once the lights, fans and TV were switched off, all we had was silence and the flickering lights of candles and lanterns. My husband got into the bath while I enjoyed the gift of soft breeze on the balcony. Everything was just serene, peaceful and quiet. The best thing was, we felt good that we did something, even if it was just for one hour and it went by so quickly. A few minutes later, a friend sent me a message that people were observing Earth Hour in Kuala Lumpur and as a citizen of the Earth and Malaysia, a rush of pride came to me.

I think that it’s important for us to continue to adjust our lives to save our planet, and not just wait for Earth Hour every year. I  don’t think that we have to change our lives completely overnight (unless you decide to do it, then good for you!) but try to choose at least one environmentally friendly practice and stick to it. No matter how small the action is, it is still better than nothing.

Here are some suggestions which don’t need much effort:

1) Turn off the electricity if you’re not using it. E.g. Turn off the lights in your room if you’re not in the room.

2) Don’t waste water by leaving the tap on when you don’t need it, especially when you’re brushing your teeth.

3) Use bags when you go shopping. Reduce your usage of plastic bags.

4) Don’t waste food unnecessarily. Food insecurity is happening in many parts of the world today.

5) Try to recycle anything. E.g. Instead of buying gift wraps, use recycled gift wraps or newspaper. It doesn’t look good but once the receiver knows that you’re doing it for the planet, he/she will respect you more. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity for you to create awareness on others.

6) Print on both sides of the paper and use recycled paper to print non-official documents.

7) Try to limit the use of air conditioning. If the heat is still bearable, opt for the fans. The good thing is, your body will adapt to the heat and the air is better circulated.

I hope you will start to do something today. The earth is ours and it’s our duty to preserve it.


  1. Yes people were observing it and many shopping malls were also having "Earth Hour" parties or events. I'm not sure how much enegery was saved or used from these commercialized hypes. So protecting the environment must have its requisite of fanfare and publicity after all.

  2. Hi Ms. Kong Piang,

    I would like to believe that it makes a difference. With or without Earth Hour, commercial centres will still have their electricity on for business every night. So, I don't think the parties or events made much of a difference in terms of wasting more energy that night.

    Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the impact of climate change and what they can do to preserve our planet. Initiatives such as this one aims to attract people's attention and I think it can be an effective way of sending the message.

    Whether it has achieved its purpose or not in terms of last night, we don't know. But I think it's a good first step. It's then up to us to do our bit and to convince others to follow. It's still better than doing nothing at all.

    We have become a reactive nation. If you don't hear someone making a hooo-hah out of things, nobody will respond. We react and response to publicity and if that's how you will "sell" a good cause, I think or rather, hope that the benefits will far outweighs what was spent/wasted.