It’s hard to believe that Earth Hour began only two years ago, when 2.2 million residents of Sydney, Australia pledged to turn off their lights for one hour. The collective result was a 10.2 percent reduction in electricity consumption - more than twice the original target of 5 percent – and the birth of an idea whose time has finally come.
One year later in 2008, Earth Hour engaged more than 50 million people in 35 countries. Earth Hour organizers report that many global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Coliseum and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square went dark, illuminating the threat of global warming as no neon sign ever could.
This year, the goal is to reach one billion people in more than 1,000 cities around the world. Close to 400 cities have already committed to participate, doubling the number that participated in 2008. According to the Earth Hour website, this year’s event will see the lights go out on some of the most recognized landmarks on the planet, including Christ the Redeemer atop the Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Moscow’s Federation Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the CN Tower in Toronto.
Cities are a major focus of Earth Hour organizers, because they collectively produce 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and consume 75 percent of the world’s energy. According to the C40 Climate Leadership Group, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities that cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface. The C40 Climate Leadership Group is an organization of the world's largest cities committed to tackling climate change. C40’s current chair is Toronto Mayor David Miller.
While one single hour isn’t going to stop the relentless onset of climate change, Earth Hour is a symbolic event designed to create a tipping point in public opinion and drive political and personal action.
Action is precisely what we need – and fast. It’s somewhat ironic that Earth Hour began in Australia – a country so recently devastated by climate extremes. In January, thousands of people were stranded in eastern Australia by some of the worst flooding in twenty years. February’s raging bushfires have claimed nearly 200 lives in the south, and that number is expected to rise.
The idea of a billion people turning off their lights is an appealing one, but what really matters is what happens after Earth Hour.
As the Earth Hour website advises, “Turning the lights off for Earth Hour is a great first step, but if you really want to see a difference, then make Earth Hour part of your everyday life.”
“Think about what else can be done to reduce your footprint like taking transit, unplugging unused electrical appliances and washing your clothes in cold water. The list is endless and your action will make a big difference.”
At home you can switch over as many light bulbs as possible to compact fluorescents, make a habit of turning off anything that doesn’t need to be on, and line dry clothes whenever possible. If you really want to get serious, have a home energy audit and budget to upgrade appliances to more energy efficient models.
At the office you can start by turning off any equipment that isn’t in use. Turn off lights at the end of the day, and find out if your company has a corporate energy policy. If not, ask why not! Encourage your company leaders to have measurable emission reduction targets, switch to green power and reduce traveling to meetings by teleconferencing. For air travel that is unavoidable, recommend that your company adopt a carbon offsetting policy. In other words, donations are made, based on the number of miles flown, to organizations actively working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
And don’t forget to join in Earth Hour on March 28th at 8:30 pm. The whole world will be watching.
Visit Earth Hour to count yourself, your company or your school in.
The C40 Climate Leadership Group website has great information about how cities can play a major role is tackling climate change.