Earth Hour: millions to switch off lights around the world
Lights in homes, buildings and famous landmarks will be turned off for an hour on Saturday to mark WWF’s annual event
Millions of people around the world are expected to switch off lights in homes, offices and famous landmarks at 8.30pm local time for an hour on Saturday to mark WWF’s annual Earth Hour.
Now in its eighth year, the mass participation event to show support for environmental issues comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to launch its latest report in Japan on Monday, outlining how global warming will affect wildlife, food supplies, water and the weather.
“It’s fortuitous timing that as millions of people take part in WWF’s Earth Hour, the world’s leading scientists release the latest IPCC report, which highlights the various impacts of climate change,” said Colin Butfield, director of public engagement and campaigns at WWF-UK. “The significance of these two events is massive. Climate change is the biggest environmental threat facing our planet – it’s real, it’s happening right now, and we need to act fast.”
Among the world’s famous landmarks that will dim their lights are the EmpireState building in New York, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the EiffelTower in Paris, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the BosphorusBridge in Turkey and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. In the UK, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham palace, Tower Bridge and the London Eye will all dim their lights, with an estimated 10 million Britons expected to take part.
Launched in Australia in 2007, WWF says Earth Hour has now grown to become the world’s biggest environmental event, mobilizing people around a range of issues from deforestation to energy efficiency. Last year saw more than 7,000 towns and cities in 154 countries take part.
This year, WWF is launching Earth Hour Blue, a digital crowd funding and crowd sourcing platform that enables participants to help raise funds and take action on a range of environmental issues. Projects that are open for donation range from teaching fisherman in the Philippines how to build boats without using wood from the local forests to a solar-lighting project to reduce human-wildlife conflict in India.
Earth Hour’s CEO and co-founder, Andy Ridley, said: “For us the symbolism or turning your lights off will always be important. But the big thing for us has always been how to push it beyond the hour. The stage we’re at now is to make it really easy for people from their handset, tablet or laptop to be able to do something pretty immediate to make a difference. That’s the holy grail for us – building a global collective movement, far beyond the event, where the event becomes a kind of inspiration but the movement is really the essence of it.”
WWF says the awareness and funding generated by Earth Hour has led to several significant conservation successes in the past few years. In 2013, Argentina used its Earth Hour campaign to help pass a senate bill to create a new 3.4 million-hectare marine reserve. In Uganda, half a million trees planted in an “Earth Hour forest” helped to help offset deforestation, while in Paraguay, public support led to an extension of an existing logging moratorium.
Butfield said that the event is far more than 60 minutes of symbolism, citing a survey in 2013 which showed that 82.7% of those who signed up to take part in the UK felt inspired to take further action.
Earth Hour critics have said that asking people to sit in the dark plays to “a widely held prejudice that ‘the greens’ want us all to go back to living in caves”. Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and who has questioned the cost of tackling climate change, said Earth Hour’s “vain symbolism” does little for the climate and distracts people from real problems and solutions. Some energy experts have also said that Earth Hour could actually result in an increase in carbon emissions when lights are turned back on.
But Ridley said: “A big part of Earth Hour is about empowerment – the idea that you as an individual can do something. It was extraordinary that first night looking out over Sydney and seeing a city go dark. And it wasn’t about going back to the dark ages – it was an excuse to lean over the garden fence and talk to your neighbour or a reason for people to talk to each other at a restaurant, so I never underestimate the power of that symbolism.”
Earlier this week, a survey commissioned by WWF-UK found that almost half (47%) of respondents said they would be willing to switch their political allegiance to a different party based on the strength of environmental policies, with 73% saying the leaders of the UK’s main political parties are not currently giving enough emphasis to the environment.