On the 31st of March, 2007 at exactly 7.30pm; the vibrant city of Sydney in Australia dimmed down. It did not sparkle the ocean like it usually did, and the streets loomed only in amber, no longer brightened by the lights in the apartments lining it. Neither a blackout nor an apocalypse; the city’s hour-long descent into darkness was voluntary and noble — been in conception since 2004 when WWF Australia got in touch with Leo Burnett Sydney, who partnered with Fairfax media to “discuss ideas for engaging Australians on the issue of climate change”.
Thus was created; the ‘Earth Hour’; first celebrated in Sydney — where citizens, communities, and businesses were encouraged to switch off all non-essential lights in order to unite people to take action to protect the earth. Ever since then, ‘Earth Hour’ has spread across the world as a grassroots movement, engaging individuals and organisations in more than 185 countries to collectively take action for the planet. While the one-hour switch off has carried through the last 12 years of this movement, it has also seen several other events worldwide addressing specific environmental issues, awareness campaigns, talks, field action etc.
Held every year in late March (around the time of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes in the northern and southern hemispheres allowing near coincidental sunset times in both hemispheres), Earth Hour claims to be a symbolic event; not necessarily one that may result in a carbon reduction exercise. Even so, the Earth Hour movement has had a significant ground impact in mobilising several communities. In 2013, Argentina used its Earth Hour Campaign to help pass a Senate bill for a 3.4 million hectares Marine Protected Area in the country. Wood-saving stoves were distributed to families in Madagascar. Thousands of solar-powered lights were installed in three villages without electricity in India. More about Earth Hour impact can be read here.
This year, Earth Hour Day is being celebrated on Saturday, March 28th from 8.30pm to 9.30pm in the UK. However, given the current crisis of the COVID pandemic; it will be executed a little differently. Although, the onus is on each country to decide how they want to proceed; Earth Hour’s global organising team advises that Earth Hour be celebrated digitally. While the previous years have seen several communal offline events, Earth Hour’s strength has always been harnessed digitally.
For example, #EarthHour and #Connect2Earth trended on Twitter in 33 countries during the Earth Hour 2018 campaign. This helped spread word and information, causing a record-breaking 188 countries, and 17,900 landmarks taking part in Earth Hour 2018. Several million people switched off their lights, using social media to talk about the importance of taking small yet necessary steps; sharing stats and stories about climate change and more.
This year too, as people across the world isolate or practise social-distancing; Earth Hour will go digital. On its website, it has suggested several creative ways through which people can celebrate Earth Hour online or in their homes, such as signing the “Voice for the Planet” petition to be presented during global conferences in 2020. The petition aims to indulge in a conversation with the world leaders and demand urgent political action to protect the planet.
The usual switch-off is encouraged too, with suggestions like using the dark time to watch documentaries and talks from David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg and telling your own stories about the Earth Hour using relevant hashtags. The Earth Hour website is also offering tutorials and games to learn how to live more sustainably and TikTok challenges such as #DanceForThePlanet challenge and #FlipTheSwitch challenge with official Earth Hour filters.
Even as the world goes through a pandemic, it is necessary to keep the wellbeing of our environment and do our part to help the planet.
“We need to stop the destruction of nature on which our health, happiness and future prosperity depends.” The link between nature and good health cannot be ignored. Even if Earth Hour is virtual this year, it can be used to bring about real positive changes, offline.
- Devyani Nighoskar is a 24-year-old SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her M.A in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo
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