Broadcasters and climate change: Turn off your lights, but not your minds!

Let there be darkness!

That could well be a message from your local radio this weekend. Radio channels across Asia would be asking their listeners to turn off their lights for an hour or two today, 21 June 2008.

The Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (Abu), an alliance of (mostly government-owned) radio and television stations across Asia, has urged broadcasters to join a campaign to encourage listeners to “Turn off Your Lights” for one or two hours as a step to raise awareness of global warming.

According to Abu, the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) made the suggestion at a meeting in Tehran in November 2007. The Japanese broadcaster hopes that the event will encourage the public “to not only to save energy but to give consideration to wider global warming issues.”

Global warming and resulting climate change are such major concerns that every action counts. So we hope the Abu-inspired campaign, although hardly original, will be successful.

It might have made more sense for the broadcast alliance to be part of the more widely observed Earth Hour — an annual international event created by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), held on the last Saturday of March, that asks households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change. It was pioneered by WWF Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007, and achieved worldwide participation in 2008.

As this composite NASA image of the Earth at night shows, energy use is proportionate to the level of economic activity and social development. Asia accounts for a good deal of the world’s lights at night.

Earth at night - NASA composite image

But at the bigger picture level, broadcasters can and must do a great deal more than merely talk about the multi-faceted, rapidly-evolving issue. For a start, they need to take a closer look at their own industry, which is not known to be particularly efficient in its resource and energy use.

I’ve been writing and talking about the need for the TV broadcast and film-making industries to become more climate friendly (even if everybody can’t immediately become carbon-neutral). These industries are not particularly known for their energy or resource use efficiency.

At Asia Media Summit 2007 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Abu’s secretary general himself chaired a session on climate change and the broadcsat media.

We heard passionate and articulate views from radio and television managers in Asia on how the airwaves can carry various messages that would sensitise governments, industry and individuals on the climate crisis — and how to live with its many impacts. But I was frustrated that the session was entirely on broadcasters carrying climate change related news and content.

All that’s necessary – but not sufficient. Surely, carrying relevant content is only one part of what broadcasters can do. When it was question time, I asked the more than 400 media managers in the audience: how can our own industries reorient core operations to become more climate friendly?

I noted that a good deal of carbon dioxide – the principal gas that warms up the planet – is emitted by the radio and TV production and broadcast processes, through the use of lights, cameras, transportation and transmitters, etc. Broadcast Television, in particular, is on a high energy mode with a fondness for dazzling lights, super-cooled studios and heavy production gear. The digital revolution has helped bring down size and weight, but it’s not yet a particularly light-weight business.

And energy is consumed not just at the production and transmission end, but when signals are received too. News from that front is not very encouraging: new plasma screens for High-definition Television (HDTV), the trendy new wave, gobble up more power at the viewing end too.

Have Asia Pacific companies engaged in the broadcast industry addressed these integral issues? How many of them calculate carbon dioxide emissions from their day-to-day operations and offset it by comparable investments in renewable energy or support for community-operated greening efforts?

I didn’t get clear answers to any of these questions from the dozens of movers and shakers in Asian broadcasting in the audience — which indicated that these concerns have not been given sufficient thought.

This was disappointing, but I can only hope it doesn’t stay that way for too long. Other players in the communication sector, such as telecom companies, have already started addressing industry-wide, smart contributions they can make in the pursuit of a more climate friendly society.

Lights, camera, action!

So here’s the challenge to radio and TV broadcasters across Asia: by all means, ask your audiences to turn unnecessary lights off every now and then, or even every day. But like charity, good climate conduct begins at home. It’s just not enough being a diligent distributor of climate messages or a mirror of contemporary society’s attempts to adopt climate-friendly lifestyles.

To confront climate change effectively and sincerely, broadcasters must turn those bright lights on to themselves — and adopt meaningful, lasting ways to contain and then reduce their own industry’s emissions.

That’s when they can switch from being part of the problem to part of the solution.

One Response to “Broadcasters and climate change: Turn off your lights, but not your minds!”

  1. diamond Says:

    we should get the whole world to try this again in 2009!

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