Every March, we’re asked to power down our lights for an hour in support of climate change awareness, and every year, millions of people worldwide turn their lights off (or don’t), but often fail to truly understand the significance of this global statement.
I’m an Environment student at the University of Waterloo, so you could say that the fundamental issue behind Earth Hour resonates with me on a different level, than say, with your average non eco-enthusiast. But I’d like to make my best attempt at highlighting just a few of the important reasons why we should stop for a second and think about why we’re turning off our lights this year.
First, let’s recognize the sheer success of what has become the world’s largest grassroots environmental initiative. Last year’s Earth Hour engaged over 172 countries, 7,000 cities, 10,400 landmarks with over 620,000 actions to #changeclimatechange. The event has also helped launch projects such as the passing of a Senate law which protected a 3.4 million hectare marine sanctuary in Argentina and the protection of large forested areas in Uganda. In addition, the World Wildlife Federation’s (WWF) campaign, Earth Hour Blue, invites you to get involved in events worldwide by choosing a country and a cause. Whether it’s protecting whales in the Arctic, or providing communities in India with clean energy, Earth Hour Blue can help you get involved in meaningful world projects.
But the objective of the event isn’t to turn off your living-room lights for an hour this weekend, nor is it to calculate your city’s total energy savings after the initiative. Rather, Earth Hour brings to light the multi-dimensional issues affecting our world today in the face of climate change. It is a symbolic statement that unifies millions across the globe in the challenging quest to take action in order to protect our environment, our resources, our health, our economy, and ultimately, our future.
But, just for our sake, let’s take a look at your individual impact of switching off the lights this earth hour. Say you live in a single story, two-bedroom home with a living room, a bathroom, and two hallways. You might have about 10 lights in that house. Assuming you’re using old-school incandescent bulbs, consuming the average 60W when switched on, you would be saving about 0.6kWh, which equates to roughly 0.708 kg CO2 saved during earth hour! This would be equivalent to driving a passenger vehicle for 9.76km! The savings of that one hour, multiplied by millions world wide is overwhelming! But again, the event is about going beyond just the energy savings of this one special hour. Earth Hour has amounted to something far greater than an annual energy conservation ritual. The question of why we should care about the event is really a matter of understanding why we should take global action on climate change.
First of all, climate change extends far beyond the preconceived notion that this is a strictly environmental issue. Intensifying and erratic weather events, rising sea-levels, and warming temperatures have a direct impact on our global food production, access to clean water and reliable energy, public health and safety, poverty and our economy.
Further to this, climate change knows no boundaries. While many still believe the effects of global warming are restricted to low-lying Pacific islands or drought-prone regions of Africa, the reality is that it affects each and every one of us.
Over the last decade, human-induced climate change has led to a series of threats worldwide, including: (1) a significant rise in global sea level; (2) the deterioration of Arctic sea ice; (3) disruption to agricultural practices due to increased length of frost-free season and precipitation in Europe and the U.S; (4) extreme weather events in Canada and Southern U.S.; and (5) an increase in disease and poverty in the Middle East. Yet nothing gets people’s hearts racing faster than hearing how inextricable climate change is from our economy. According the World Economic Forum, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation is now seen as more likely to have a greater impact in the coming years than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, water crises, and a severe energy price shock.
Now, my intention here is not to go all “gloom-and-doom-environmentalist” on you. In fact, my life and career goal is to do the complete opposite. I believe that climate change is undeniably one of the most challenging and complex issues of our time. However, within the last few years, a positive component of this global challenge has come to light – the incredible opportunity for individuals, communities, nation leaders, industries, corporations, and non-governmental organizations to come together as one, cohesive global community to act for the benefit of a more safer, more sustainable and socially responsible future. This is precisely why, to me, Earth Hour is an inspirational depiction of the progress we’ve made toward achieving global change. In the last ten years of Earth Hour events, important stakeholders have united well beyond the hour to deliver tangible environmental achievements such as global legislative climate action (e.g. 2015 Paris climate summit, COP21), and the provision of renewable energy projects in lesser-developed nations.
This is why I invite you to join me and millions of others around the world in turning off lights this Saturday, March 19, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. More importantly, I challenge you to go beyond the hour and reflect, as well as act on the urgency to protect our Earth and our future.
This piece was written by Sara Ganowski. Sara is a fourth year University of Waterloo student double majoring in Environment & Resource studies and Speech Communication. She is also a lead on the Climate Students Communications Team.