Earth Hour 2010: Turn Your Lights Down Low

Or better yet, turn them off, full stop – at 8:30pm tonight, Saturday, March 27, 2010 – and let jah moon come shinning in, into our life again. Singing, ooh, it’s been a long long time. I’ll stop now. The fourth annual Earth Hour – an hour of intentional, international darkness – organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is upon us, and this one looks to be the grandest yet. People all over the world will be hitting the light switch and striking matches tonight for ma earth, throwing parties and thinking things over in the dark for a full 60 minutes. And since the event takes place on local time, it will look from space like a great wave of darkness rotating over the earth from major city to major city, starting in Fiji.

I remember writing about the second Earth Hour in 2008 for Plenty Magazine, and thinking to myself: what a nice gesture. People won’t do it (hell, I might not do it), but what a nice gesture. I’d better throw in something universally appealing, I thought, something fun, like the fact that Earth Hour has its own signature flaming cocktail. People don't like interrupting their day just because an environmental non-profit told them to, but they do like drinking! But still, what a nice gesture.

I was wrong. Last year, almost a billion people around the world participated – 4,100 cities and 87 countries got involved. About 80 million of that billion were Americans, and the event made a visible mark. Landmark buildings, bridges and monuments that went dark for Earth Hour 2009 included: the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, UN headquarters, City Hall, the New York Public Library, the Golden Gate Bridge, Seattle’s Space Needle, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Las Vegas Strip (really!), St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London, Elysee Palace and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Water Cube in Beijing, and the Sydney Opera House. The list this year is even longer, and includes some unlikely corporate participants such as Tishman Speyer Properties.

Earth Hour is, of course, the type of event which prompts all sorts of romantic statements from grassroots organizers and world leaders. This will be the year, they proclaim, that our hitting the lights as a united globe will send a clear message to: FILL IN THE BLANK. To congress, to the EU, to Obama, to “the world” (whoever that is), and so on. But it seems to me that no matter how loud we shout with our hour of darkness, no matter how many you’s and me’s we get on board, no matter how many attractive celebrities (Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady are Earth Hour’s latest glossy-haired public advocates) star in YouTube videos for the cause, we’re not really sending a message to anyone specific.

Anyone except ourselves. I’m going to spend Earth Hour at home with friends, eating pizza by candlelight before heading out to watch one of my roommates perform with her improv troop. And I’m not doing it to send a clear message to congress, the world, or to anyone. I don't necessarily believe that my turning off my lights will matter to anyone but me. I see it as a chance not to be heard, but to hear myself - to feel a part of a powerful movement that’s growing and leaving a visible trail. I’m doing it to remind myself that while I can’t get America off coal tomorrow, I can play a role in this fight – that by turning off the lights for one hour, I can make a tiny, tiny, almost insignificant, very big little difference.

I can choose, for myself and no one else, to be a part of it, or not.

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