Paul Andersen: Turning off and tuning in to ‘Earth Hour’ |

Paul Andersen: Turning off and tuning in to ‘Earth Hour’

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Detractors, skeptics, cynics, naysayers, you need not put it down. Turning off the lights for an hour last week did not save the world. Then again …

An ambitious initiative took place Saturday. The idea was simple yet profound. Acting together, each of us was asked to draw attention to the global environment by switching off our lights March 30 at 8:30 in whatever time zone we live in.

I was bike touring in Death Valley during Earth Hour, where there were no human lights, so I didn’t get to see what organizers are calling the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment. Started as a symbolic lights out event in Sydney, Australia in 2007, Earth Hour today inspires millions of people to be conscious of the biosphere.

While most of us didn’t witness the results as a swath of night sweeping across the globe, the idea is imaginative. The best view would have been from a space station orbiting in synch with the darkening of the globe, but those seats are rather exclusive.

Earth Hour may sound a little “woo-woo,” but there is a hopeful, kumbaya kind of appeal to a collective act of humanity that cost nothing.

“Every year millions of people, businesses and landmarks set aside an hour to host events, switch off their lights and make noise for the Earth Hour movement. This year, we want to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth.”

This innocent request for environmental awareness had no hard edge, no ax to grind, no vindication or name calling. The idea was to throw a global party and invite everyone who cares enough to make it an event by simply turning off their lights.

Those who took part hosted candle-lit dinners, went stargazing, or simply switched off their lights for an hour in an act of solidarity for the planet. This feel-good approach is open to cynicism, but what else is there to do in the face of a pending global calamity?

If this feels like a youthful endeavor, it most likely is. It is the youth of our world who are claiming the high moral ground by making noise about environmental awareness. It is the youth of the world who are brassy enough to assume a moral stance and ask something unifying of each of us.

“We love this planet and everything that lives upon it. Join us and, together, let’s spark never-before-had conversations on nature and the unique diversity of life we share our home with!”

Increasing global consciousness is an evolutionary trend toward environmentally friendly laws and policies, and even crowdfunding for a better future. As organizers stated, “Earth Hour’s greatest strength is the power of people.”

Earth Hour could have been hatched when I was young, when the peace movement, civil rights, Earth Day and a rising social and ecological consciousness were cool and hip, hopeful and idealistic. There was power in that kind of movement, a power that most of my generation later abandoned to the pursuit of career advancement and the unprecedented consumerism that is the source of climate change.

“Most of the resources we use come from the environment. That’s why we have to do our part to protect the world around us. People are just one part of Earth’s vast web of life. Let’s get back in touch with our roots and nurture nature by helping to conserve wildlife and their habitats.”

How else can a global issue like climate change generate a buzz without a universal, concerted gesture that says we care enough to turn off our lights for an hour in honor of the Earth? There’s humility in that and a benign sense of engaged activism.

And, who knows … when the lights went out and it was dark enough to see the stars, there might have been an opportunity to glimpse the space station and see if they had their lights out.

Even in Death Valley, I turned off my headlamp and watched the stars turn. There’s nothing like gazing at the starry heavens to shed light on the challenges we face on good old planet Earth.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at


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