Earth Hour 2012: Will Giving 60 Minutes for the Planet Matter?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | March 2nd, 2012 | 5 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

Sea turtel

To support what’s being billed as the “largest environmental event in history,” all you have to do is turn off your lights for one hour on Saturday, March 31, at 8:30 p.m., your local time. That’s it. It’s probably the easiest thing you’ve ever been asked to do for the planet and the natural world.

The request is a simple one because the World Wildlife Fund, the organizer of Earth Hour, is counting on millions of other people to do the same thing in a cascade around the globe, from New Zealand to Hawaii. And by using the power of our digital interconnectedness throughout the world, it’s hoped we’ll make a bigger statement — via social media — to those in positions of power about our concern regarding the Earth’s changing climate and the effect it’s having, especially on wildlife such as polar bears, tigers and sea turtles.

But in the end, will Earth Hour — and the 60 minutes you spend in the dark — really make a difference?

The “big guys” versus us

Night scene

During Earth Hour, just turn off the lights for 60 minutes. ©John T. Andrews

Some would argue that the actions we as individuals take and the personal pledges we make to safeguard the environment are merely a drop in the bucket, given the peril our planet is in. That taking shorter showers, changing our incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents and turning off our lights for an hour once a year won’t amount to much. That the changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action. They argue that only major, systemic changes will get us off the sure path to a quickly warming planet and the natural disasters that will follow.

According to the World Watch Institute, an independent research organization devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns, it is governments that need to enact laws and tax policies that encourage the conservation of energy; the production and use of more energy-efficient cars, buildings and appliances; and the development and implementation of renewable energy such as solar and wind power and biofuels. Only governments and big businesses can increase investments in public transportation and encourage land development patterns that minimize urban and suburban sprawl.

Unfortunately, governments and big businesses are rarely responsive to one-hour, public demonstrations.

In a September 7, 2011, article in the New York Times, author Gernot Wagner, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, argues that individual action does not work. In fact, it may cause more harm than good in that it distracts us from the need for collective, more concrete, bigger efforts. For example, giving a few dollars to “offset” your flights won’t motivate anyone to fly less or lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. All it does is make individual, green-conscious passengers feel better about traveling.

So while Earth Hour creates awareness, it may, in reality, only be a feel-good event.

We’re small, but growing

Still, however, 2012 will mark the sixth year of Earth Hour. The inaugural event was held in Sydney, Australia, where 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses participated on March 31, 2007. By Earth Hour 2011, hundreds of millions of people had turned the lights out, involving more than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries on seven continents.

Walking polar bear

Polar bear populations in Canada’s Hudson Bay have declined by 22 percent since the 1990s. If global warming continues at its current pace, polar bears could be gone by 2050. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The organizers of Earth Hour say, of course, that the event is a symbolic action. It’s not about how much energy is saved around the planet in one night. The real purpose is to go “Beyond the Hour,” by committing ourselves to working for a slowdown of climate change and showing the big guys that we mean it when we say we want some steps taken in the right direction. After all, according to, in any two days, human beings create as much information online as it took our species to produce in the 30,000 years between the dawn of cave painting and the year 2003. In another 10 years, that same amount of information will be generated in less than one hour.

Maybe, by using our ability to connect with large numbers of people anywhere in the world by way of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, we can show our common concern for the environment, we are taking collective action and we will get the attention of the big guys — in just one hour.

Do you think Earth Hour — with the aid of social media — can play a part in convincing governments around the world to enact legislation that will help ward off global warming? Or is this just another negligible, feel-good event?

Happy trails,


Feature photo: Scorching sands pose the greatest long-term threat from climate change to sea turtles. By 2070, sands in many areas will be so hot that eggs will not survive, causing extinction of the species. ©John T. Andrews


  1. I’ll be sure to turn them off on the 31st!

    Travis | March 6th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  2. Certainly any concrete benefit from an event like Earth Hour is probably negligible, in terms of actual reductions in emissions or increased sustainability.

    But as you say, the event has grown rapidly in just a few years and should continue to grow as social media becomes so deeply ingrained in the culture.

    As long as the message of “Beyond the Hour” is hammered home – that awareness is useless without action, there is benefit, even if symbolic.

    If only a small portion of the hundreds of millions that participate for the hour make a substantive change to reduce their impact in some way, then it is still not enough, but better than nothing.

    I defended Earth Hour last year in a blog post responding to an essay by Ross McKitrick. Published in, the essay explains how he “abhors” Earth Hour.

    Tom Schueneman | March 13th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  3. i will

    Afzal | March 24th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  4. Ok.

    Afzal | March 24th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  5. In our villages, still there is no electricity no power,when the sun sets people light lanterns and still they are happy, healthy and much stronger than people in cities. With lots of progress and technological revolutions we are seeing this day,when people are being requested to switch off lights & power to save our mother earth.
    Actually I support this event and shall switch off the power of my house atleast to support and if adds in some saving for mother earth.

    Eng. Seema Singh | March 26th, 2012 | Comment Permalink

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