60 minutes of candlelight for Earth Hour

Husband and I observed Earth Hour on Saturday night, as we do each year.  It just so happened that I thought of it on Friday morning and checked online to see when it was, since surprisingly I’d not seen a single advertisement or article or anything in our area to remind people of it.  I quickly posted on Facebook, called my immediate family to remind them, and started looking forward to those sixty minutes of darkness at 8:30 p.m.

You see, despite the inconvenience of having to turn off all lights and electronic devices and appliances for a whole hour, it’s also tremendously satisfying.  I dug out a whole pile of candles and spread them out over the table.  We read in silence for the entire hour, squinting slightly at our books and exchanging the occasional word, but mostly we enjoyed the peacefulness of our silent home; even the dishwasher was turned off, so there was no humming appliance in the background.  Candlelight, from an aesthetic point of  view, is so superior to ordinary lights.  It makes everyone and everything look so beautiful!

Earth Hour is an interesting concept that I’ve been mulling over.  On one hand, I consider it to be a prime example of that passive, feel-good, soft ‘activism’ of which the developed world is so guilty: “I’ll turn off some lights and feel really great about saving the environment,” only to forget about it entirely by 9:45 p.m.

On the other hand, the symbolism of uniting something like 150 countries in an act of environment conservation is powerful and not to be underestimated.  The repercussions of one’s actions are impossible to calculate, and who knows how many people have been sufficiently affected by Earth Hour to change their everyday habits.  (For example, since Saturday night I’ve been making a much more concerted effort to turn out lights whenever I leave a room.)

Plus, there’s something satisfying about joining in solidarity with the rest of the world in a single action, since we spend so much time at each other’s throats instead.  Interestingly, Toronto’s power usage went down 6.8% for that hour, so it’s doing at least something, but it’s quite a bit less than previous Earth Hours: 10% in 2010 and 15% in 2009.

Toronto skyline during Earth Hour 2012 (Toronto Star)
Toronto skyline after Earth Hour 2012 (Toronto Star)

But when does soft activism need get kicked out of the way to make room for hard new rules?  I’m thinking about the Ontario Energy Board’s introduction of Time-of-Use prices for electricity a couple years ago.  Every household received a little diagram showing when electricity is at peak price (most of the daytime) and when it drops to nearly half the cost (from 7 pm till 7 am).  As an indebted university student at the time, this forced me to rethink entirely my approach to washing dishes, doing laundry, having hot showers.  I restructured my day as a result and never used my dryer again, and my electricity bill dropped drastically.

Even now, I wait to do most of those activities till nighttime.  Though the point of TOU metering is not to save energy, it can have a conservationist effect on people like myself.  Some people I know are irritated by these changes, but I’m thankful for being forced to change, because I don’t know if I would have stopped to think about energy usage otherwise.  Funny how money tends to make us reconsider things, isn’t it?!

Anyways, back to Earth Hour: I’m curious to hear if any of you observed it and how.  Was it widely promoted in your town or country?  Do you think it serves a greater purpose or nothing more than a publicity stunt?


4 thoughts on “60 minutes of candlelight for Earth Hour

  1. Been a practitioner of Earth Hour for the last two years and I know what you mean about “soft activism”.
    It’s not a good thing because its lazy, sure, but its also not a bad thing because it is in fact a good thing to do and like with you (as you described) it motivates people to do things and embrace habits they would not have – in the longer run that is what makes all the difference.
    Even if its 1 out of every 1000 that carries on the good habits, I call that a win.

  2. Thanks for your call. I would have missed it otherwise. We, too, read by candlelight. But then, we live in the North, so that’s pretty common, as you well know.

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