Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Hour: Yes We Can

Lights went out around the world this past Saturday, as communities big and small participated in Earth Hour, a symbolic movement started in Sydney, Australia to lower energy consumption by turning off lights and appliances for one hour.

At exactly 8:01PM, I not only shut off lights and appliances, but--with flashlight in hand--I marched down to the fuse box and shut off the power to the whole house: fridge, furnace and all.

For that one hour my family and I sat around the kitchen table, our faces bathed in warm candlelight, snacking, chatting, playing with the candle wax. We enjoyed our little refuge from self-imposed darkness and enjoyed the novelty of our energy fast. It was quite beautiful and almost spiritual in it's simplicity and solidarity, knowing that millions around the world were doing the same. In fact, WWF Australia says 50 million people in 40 countries participated.

Certainly, it's not going to stop climate change, nor will it prevent people from leaving their lights on thoughtlessly after that one dark hour had passed. But it was an important symbol. I've heard people call it "a prayer," transmiting hope for a better world through a small but united, committed act of sacrifice. It was "largely symbolic" said one energy conservation expert, but added, "symbolism is sometimes important."

It's true that not everyone participated. Bangkok, for example, didn't meet expectations after a successful 15 min 'lights out' campaign last year. Even Sydney, the pioneer of Earth Hour, failed to match last year's numbers. On the flip side, Toronto meet its target with a 9% reduction in use (just one point behind Sydney's result last year) and my own little suburb achieved just under 7%--second best in the city as a whole.

Overall, being the first year that the the idea went worldwide, I say Earth Hour was a success. It was an announcement to our politicians, corporations and to ourselves, that yes, we are willing to give up some convenience and we are willing to work together to make a change for the better. We're paying attention, we care, and we want action.

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