Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, with 2 million people and 2,000 businesses turning their lights off for an hour in the name of climate change and energy preservation.
A year later, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) initiative went global, with 50 million people and 35 countries taking part in the event. From the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the world’s tallest building), from the Eiffel Tower to the Buckingham Palace, many gave up their lights for an hour in the name of climate change and saving energy. In 2009, these numbers grew to hundreds of million people in 88 countries, and 128 countries in 2010.
In 2011 the number of participating countries grew to 134. Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General, himself encouraged more people to celebrate the event. So on the 26 March of 2011, lights all over the world were turned off for an hour. It started in the Chatham Islands in New Zealand and it ended, 24 hours later, in Samoa. Between 8:30 and 9:30 pm local time, millions of people worldwide turned their electrical lights off. Some lighted candles. Some gathered in public places to share the moment and the experience. Others stayed at home to watch the starry night that is often not visible with the city light pollution.
Coincidentally, 2011’s Earth Hour took place only a few weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis. Shadows of the crisis still linger on everybody’s minds, as we speak of energy and environment – two key issues behind the purpose of the initiative.
The initiative is not without criticism. Some argue that the event promotes a return to the dark ages, instead of development in green and renewable energies in place of fossil fuels. Others criticize the use of candles during the event, as most candles are made of paraffin i.e. derived from crude oil, a fossil fuel. Some criticize the event as hypocrital, because a lot more energy is used beyond that one hour as compared to whatever is saved during the event.
All in all, the critics seem to have forgotten that Earth Hour is supposed to be symbolic – a call to attention for an important environmental issue. The event in itself, like many other green events (e.g. Earthday events, was not intended to bring about any substantial savings in energy – one hour in an entire year is simply not enough. Nonetheless, the event does have some direct positive impact on the environment, even if minor. In 2008, according to Commonwealth Edison, the largest electric utility in Illinois, the event in Chicago reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 840,00 pounds.
More importantly, Earth Hour has brought about greater awareness on the environmental issues we are facing today, in the same as the various Earth Day activities are doing. The millions of people, thousands of organizations and businesses, and the hundreds of countries all over the world that are taking part in the event every year are acknowledging the importance of the environment and pledging their commitment to do something on climate change, even if it is for an hour.
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