An hour for planet Earth

At 8pm yesterday, my family and I joined the world for an hour as we turned off the lights as part of Earth Hour, an initiative launched last year by World Wildlife Fund Australia in Sydney. A relatively small event in 2007, it has kick started a global phenomenon that has become far larger than anyone seems to have anticipated. It’s estimated that some 30 million people took part last night, representing some 26 cities and 300 other locations from across 35 nations.

Sydney during Earth Hour
Starting at 8pm local time in Suva (Fiji), the lights went out across the west Pacific. Two hours later they were turned off on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After another eighteen hours had passed, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was plunged into darkness. It was an inspiring evening. At 8pm across 14 different time zones, people turned off their lights and other appliances. It seems to have captured the imagination of people and groups around the world: Parliament in Canberra turned off their lights; farmers in the bush enjoyed candle-lit dinner parties. Even Prince Charles took part, turning off the lights at his Gloucester Highgrove House.

Yet, it wasn’t an evening for just sitting in the dark and nervously ticking off the time until the lights could go back on. In Australia, many caught up with friends and had BBQs and parties (some of them in the street). Sydney Observatory opened up for a great night with the stars.

The family and I were staying to the south of Sydney and decided to play some card games by candle light for the hour. My daughter Cara, 10 years old, caught on straight away and with her friend who was staying the night thought it was a great idea. In truth my son Robert, who’s only 6 years old, was less clear about the whole thing, but once he’d found out candles and flames were involved he was fully on board. It was a time for us to slow down the pace of life and play as a family; something we don’t do nearly as much as we should. I have to confess, the atmosphere was a bit unsettling at first; out of the habit of using candles, the flicking shadows made the setting feel more like a séance or a murder mystery. Fortunately there were no voices or daggers emanating from the shadows and after our initial paranoia had passed, the whole family got into the swing of things. It was good fun. I haven’t done anything like this for years. We just stopped: no one rang, there was no television blaring out, there was no music from a stereo. Peace and quiet. Well almost. Just as the light went out we were hit with the most amazing storm directly overhead, with thunder and lightning cackling together and rain that was bordering on monsoonal. If it was atmosphere we were looking for we couldn’t have done better. The kids thought it was wild. They’ll certainly remember it.

We were just one small family taking part in a larger vision. Earth Hour was a symbolic event. It’s great to see something positive coming out of the concern about climate change. Rather than be a negative thing, here was a positive step. We can do something about the mess we’ve made. We don’t have to just sit there and do nothing. Last year, a much smaller Earth Hour in Sydney reduced the city’s energy consumption by 10 per cent; last night’s effort should have had a far bigger effect around the world. It gives hope that we can make the transition to a green economy. Earth Hour shows there’s a growing awareness of the climate problems we face and that people (and industry) want to take action. Leaders of the world take note.

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