I wrote extensively about Earth Hour last year and my intention was just to ignore it this year, especially since it appears to have lost its 'novelty' value and the level of public interest in it - at least here in New Zealand - seems to have dropped away a little.

However I saw Oliver Driver and Carly Flynn talking nonsense about it on Sunrise this morning. Mediaworks (of which TV3 is a part) is one of the main supporters of Earth Hour in New Zealand so it wasn't surprising that Oliver and Flynn gushed enthusiastically about it all.

It was, incidentally, ironic that the two presenters should be enthusing about 'all of us' coming together for this 'great' environmental campaign when, just two days earlier, both Driver and Flynn were agreeing that it was a good idea for Paula Bennett to bash beneficiaries.

Apparently the love and good vibes only go so far...

One of the other main New Zealand supporters of Earth Hour is Toyota. Given that cars spew tons of pollutants into the air every year, I'm not exactly sure how Toyota are contributing to creating a cleaner environment.

The World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) are the organising body behind Earth Hour.

I wrote extensively about the shocking politics of the WWF last year and I'm not going to repeat it all here, suffice to say that the WWF has a dismal record of jumping into bed with corporate polluters in return for sponsorship dollars.

Such has been its eagerness to attract corporate backing it has accepted funds from oil corporates like Chevron and Exxon Mobil - both oil giants with dismal environmental records.

The WWF also has taken millions from corporations like Citigroup, the Bank of America, Kodak, J.P. Morgan, the Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris (yes, the cigarette manufacturer) , Waste Management , Coca Cola and DuPont.

As I wrote last year:

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly the World Wildlife Fund, has long been pushing a market-friendly brand of environmentalism.

Interestingly, given the recent local controversy about the importation of palm oil into this country, in November last year some 31 countries signed a letter attacking WWF’s founding role in the 'Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil'. The letter said: 'WWF's involvement is being used by agrofuel companies to justify building more refineries and more palm oil power stations in Europe.'

The palm oil industry is a leading cause of destruction of tropical rainforests.

As was the case last year there has been no critical analysis of Earth Hour and the WWF. Instead we have media organisations like Mediaworks acting as an advertising agency for the WWF.

It has also has the backing, among others, of various city councils - and former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

How many New Zealanders know they are supporting an organisation that takes money from cigarette companies, supports uranium mining in Australia and is playing a central role in the promotion of the palm oil industry and the consequent destruction of more of our precious rainforests?

If they did then its likely a lot of Kiwis would probably stay well clear of Earth Hour.


  1. The problem with this analysis is that it conflates 'earth hour' as a tactic with a particular NGO apparatus that promotes it, in alliance with its 'corporate partners.'

    I happen to think that 'earth hour' as a tactic is, to say the least, extremely limited. It is at the same low level of efficacy for environmental activism as a circulating a petition to the federal government or organizing school children to pick up litter. Or, for that matter, organizing adults to pick up litter. But your article suggests that it is far WORSE than these, and in particular, that it is actively harmful (whereas presumably petitions and picking up litter are not in themselves harmful). That's what I want to challenge.

    Of course, it is worth saying that 'earth hour' as a tactic is very, very limited and ineffective at building an environmental movement. We shouldn't mistake it for serious environmental justice organizing, and obviously it isn't a substitute for it, etc. So, if (as I kind of doubt) there are widespread illusions among activists or potential activists that 'earth hour' is making a serious contribution to building a powerful movement, these illusions ought to be politely dispelled, and people should be steered toward more effective tactics and strategic orientations.

    But it is a mistake to conflate the question of whether the initiators of 'earth hour' are pro-corporate (which they are) with the different question of whether 'earth hour' as a tactic is pro-corporate. To me, the answer to the second question is "no."

    Sometimes, where I live (London, Ontario, Canada), corporations organize their workers to pick up litter, as a PR strategy for a bank or pesticide manufacturer or whatever. These efforts are pro-corporate in and of themselves, because they function only as a vehicle for "positive branding" of corporations. To be sure, WWF tries to do this as well, on behalf of its corporate allies. However, the vast majority of the actual participants in 'earth hour' are actually doing something harmless in their own homes, so that they simply indulge in an "eco-friendly" gesture, in their own homes, as a way of expressing their ideological misgivings about consumerism and ecological destruction. So, this is more like people picking up litter on their own, in their own neighborhoods, because it expresses a commitment to which they are attached. It's different from being paid by a bank to parade around with corporate-logo T-shirts to promote an advertising campaign.

    The role of the WWF in trying to orchestrate 'earth hour' as a vehicle for corporate sponsors to re-brand themselves as "environmentally responsible" is to be condemned. But the tactic -- like picking up litter on one's own or in concert with some neighbors -- is in most cases harmless, and in some cases beneficial, especially insofar as it can serve as an entry-point into environmental activism, even if it is not itself activism -- in just the same way that fruitless petitions to the capitalist state have no actual effect in changing the world, but constitute a crucial step toward political activity, taking that first step beyond voting which millions of people never take.

    So, although I don't participate in or promote it, I also don't oppose earth hour at all. I think that it does nothing to obstruct environmental activism and that it is actually, to some small degree, a potential source of ideological critique of consumerism, etc., within mainstream culture, a bit like when the Dixie Chicks criticized the invasion of Iraq. Things like that do little to help the movement. But they don't harm it, and can even be mildly beneficial as entrypoints to critique and oppositional activity for people who can't really be mobilized by the activist Left.


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