While I still appreciate that the concept of Earth Hour has finally come to Amman, I am overwhelmingly disappointed with the outcome. Last night, several locations were supposed to turn their lights off in honor of Earth Hour, between 8:30 and 9:30pm, along with the rest of the world. What happened was nothing short of utter disappointment, much of which emanates from a sense of predictability that this was bound to turn out the way it did.
Very few lights were actually turned off. City Hall, the brain of Amman, had its lights on, and for some reason, organizers (WWF) chose to have a candle-light walk down rainbow street and towards Wild Jordan Cafe, i.e. in other words, walking down narrow streets with a police escort and causing traffic jams.
Some street lights were turned off, others were not, and it was so random that Amman residents probably couldn’t tell if this was some significant event or if the street lights were simply broken as usual.
More importantly, there seems to have been absolutely no awareness-raising on-the-ground. The people who seemed to know anything about it could be counted on two hands, maybe four. During the traffic jam caused mainly by a parked police car, pedestrians, residents and motorists could be overheard asking what the heck was going on.
It seems the government and/or the organizers spent little time when it came to raising awareness, which is essentially the very point of all this. There was even some confusion over the time as some organizers stated it was between 8 and 9pm while the media reported it to be 8:30 and 9:30pm.
Others, who did know, didn’t seem to get it, or took their time to discredit it. I think they were under the impression that the point of this event was to dedicate one hour to save the world instantaneously, and didn’t seem to grasp the idea that this is primarily designed to raise awareness on a grassroots level and to help support global advocacy dedicated to this cause. Instead, pseudo-intellectuals seemed more concerned with pointing out how turning off a few lights is futile in the face of our other daily crimes against nature.
In other words: typical Jordanian-ness
The only thing that actually caught my attention were the number of small and local businesses who knew about it and actually participated, specifically small shops and cafes on Rainbow street. I’m not sure how safe it is to fill your shop with candles and leave, but their participation was actually quite encouraging.
I was very discouraged to see the lack of participation by the Greater Amman Municipality. City Hall should have been way more involved than this. Other cities around the world, such as Toronto, turned this in to one heck of an event. That’s the kind of thing that’s needed to capitalize on such an initiative: generate a critical mass of awareness-raising. In a city where energy conservation should be at the root of public policy formulation, Earth Hour demonstrated the extent to which policy makers and city planners care about this city’s environment, where nearly half the population resides.
I hope next year will be better, and I also hope organizers can attempt to bust out of the west Ammani bubble this event seemed to be stuck in. It should be spread well past the affluent regions of the city and into the larger constituency. It has to be all-inclusive.
Organizers, be they the WWF or their partners such as the Ministry of Environment, should also rally and lobby private institutes instead of simply relying on this being completely “voluntary”. If the business community is well-informed I do think they will respond. At least turn off the lights on landmarks such as the Housing Bank Complex or the Royal Hotel.
And when planning this next year, don’t forget alternative media channels like Jordanian bloggers whom I think can play a vital role in spreading the message well ahead of time.