Earth Hour this year is Saturday, March 28th from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, where participants are urged to turn off all their lights for an hour as a show of support against global warming. These sorts of events oftentimes seem like an empty gesture to me that tend to have far too many commercial interests.
Sure, they get people excited and make them feel like they are participating in a global movement, but the overall impact is fairly minimal, particularly given the fact that the majority of participants end up burning paraffin candles instead. The end result is that Earth Hour burns more CO2 than keeping one low-watt CFL bulb burning instead.
Here's the trade-off: if you get your electricity from green sources (wind, hydro, solar, etc.), switching over to a seemingly innocuous candle is a bit of mental legerdemain. Are the candles 100% beeswax or soy with a 100% cotton wick? Or are they the cheaper paraffin (fossil fuel) kind? Do they burn cleanly or do they actually contribute to increased carbon dioxide emissions?
For those of you not intimately knowledgeable about standard paraffin candles, paraffin is essentially hydrocarbon, or a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight from crude oil. Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting. In other words, for every paraffin candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.8 g of carbon dioxide.
Beeswax candles, on the other hand, can be considered "carbon neutral" in the sense that, even though it produces carbon dioxide when burned, it’s carbon that is naturally cycled through the ecospheric carbon cycle - not from fossil fuel.
So, if you are doing Earth Hour, stock up on beeswax candles if you really want to make a statement. Another alternative is a hand-crank or solar lantern. Or, you can just hang out in the dark and enjoy yourself with other, more carbon neutral activities.
Are you going to do Earth Hour this year and what kind of alternative lighting will be used, if any?