In 2007, The World Wildlife Fund of Australia hosted the first ever Earth Hour. That year 2.2 millions individuals and 2100 businesses participated in this event to send a powerful message for action on climate change. Following a successful first year, the WWF had the goal of spreading the word about Earth Hour to the rest of Australia.
However, after the city of Toronto signed on, the word continued to spread and the 2008 Earth Hour included 35 countries and 400 cities and towns. In the short years to follow, Earth Hour became a truly global event with 5200 cities, and 135 countries participating in the 2011 Earth Hour. 2011 saw casinos on the Las Vegas strip go dark for the only time during the year; AEG managed arenas and venues powered down;1400 Walgreens switched off their lights and Coca Cola turned off massive billboards in Piccadilly Circus and Times Square. All around the world, organizations, corporations and individuals had their say on the need to take action on climate change.
But no matter how far Earth Hour spreads, how many people participate and how many communities go dark for that hour, the question remains, how does Earth Hour really affect climate change?
According to Toronto Hydro, there was a 15% reduction in electricity use during the 2011 Earth Hour. This is the equivalent of turning off 750,000 60 watt bulbs. With over 5200 cities participating it must be concluded that there is a potentially significant impact. But can only one hour, on one day each year truly benefit the environment in the long term? Even if we have to admit that Earth Hour is more symbolic than mathematical, that’s okay because symbols are very powerful things.
With Earth Hour’s impressive annual global growth, one cannot deny that it is drawing attention to the issue of climate change. Whether people participate in Earth Hour proudly each year or turn on all of their lights as a sign of non-belief, Earth Hour has stimulated the conversation. People are now thinking about and considering the benefits, the drawbacks, and the necessity of Earth Hour. People are talking about climate change and any dialogue is better than no dialogue.
Those choosing to participate in Earth Hour may be motivated by the issue of climate change, or want to expose wasted evening energy usage, or they just like being part of something global or maybe they just want to save a buck or two. Whatever the motivation, Earth Hour helps us to re-examine, re-focus and re-engage the topics that are important to us. It has increased the global awareness of climate change and allows the opportunity to consider it in our own way.
The most crucial aspect of any campaign is action and that is what Earth Hour demands, action. While attention and awareness help to spread the dialogue and focus our attention and even change our mind set, it is the action that makes the statement heard around the world. Any action, whether it is because of or despite Earth Hour, is the catalyst for future sustainable action. The action we take during that one hour, on one day of each year is heard around the world.
If we look at Earth Hour as a celebration of sustainable action taken around the world, instead of as an isolated effort, then we can truly see how Earth Hour makes a significant impact on the environment.