People around the world are gearing up for another Earth Hour – what has become an annual WWF event encouraging people, businesses and famous landmarks to turn off the lights simultaneously to raise awareness of global warming.
This year’s hour of darkness is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, March 26 at 8:30 pm local time. The idea began in 2007 when much of Sydney, Australia went dark in the first single-city Earth Hour. Check out the video to see highlights from previous years.
In 2011, participants from 131 countries are planning to take part, and even Twitter is getting into the act with an application that lets people turn off the light in their profile picture.
So, do these grassroots, symbolic climate actions really make any difference? In terms of changing the minds of policy makers and entrenched interests, perhaps not. But if regular people can get inspired enough to think about their behavior and spread the word, then grassroots action can be powerful – especially if lawmakers hear from enough of their constituents.
As the organizers point out, real change comes when people continue to take action beyond the event by improving energy efficiency, switching to sustainable products or getting involved in the community.
(Next month, The Nature Conservancy is spearheading our own grassroots Earth Day event called Picnic for the Planet, with local picnics planned in 126 cities so far – and it’s not too late to plan your own.)
Browsing through the Earth Hour website to see if there is any event in my area reminded me of another global warming collective action back in 2007, when I was first learning about climate change in graduate school.
The 2007 Step It Up campaign was one of the first climate actions organized by author Bill McKibben and the 350.org movement, named for the target of 350 parts per million (the level of CO2 in the atmosphere considered safe for humanity).
As a commuter who lived more than an hour from campus, it didn’t make sense for me to drive to Boston to find an event (in fact it defeated the purpose since the goal was to avoid creating greenhouse gases by taking action where we lived). So, I searched online to see if there were any Step It Up events happening closer to home.
Lo and behold, there was a listing for Southbridge, a small city not far away. A few days earlier, I had noticed the giant “350” sign hand-painted on a white piece of cloth stretched over the fence of a closed gas station on the main route through town.
This was at a time of growing momentum for the climate movement, and I was excited that people in my area might actually be as concerned about climate change as I was. So, on a brisk, sunny afternoon, I packed my dog in the car and showed up at the meeting spot ready for a walk and some community organizing.
Turns out there were a grand total of four of us (five, if you count my dog Lola) standing on a street corner in front of the sign for 40 minutes. We did manage to garner a few supportive beeps of car horns from passing motorists.
Even though it was a truly small-scale effort, the young woman who made the sign did submit our photo to the 350.org web site to create another pin in their map of grassroots activity. And even out here in the boondocks, it felt good to make a statement that I cared about climate change.
Later that year, I started an internship in Boston with The Nature Conservancy’s climate policy team. And here I am, four years later, still writing about it. Change can take time.
Tomorrow, I’m not planning to join any big organized Earth Hour event. But at 8:30 pm, I will turn off the lights, extinguish the television, put a candle in the window and curl up with my dog and fellow activist Lola. My neighbors might not notice, but I will know that I am joining in solidarity with people, standing in darkness near faraway places like the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Roman Colosseum.
Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy
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