Millions of people across the globe switched off their lights on Saturday night in celebration of Earth Hour, a World Wildlife Fund-sponsored event that began in 2007. The concept of the event is to bring people together in an energy-saving effort with climate change in mind.
134 countries were involved this year, including Germany, India, Fiji, Australia, China, Canada, and the United States. Earth Hour occurs every year at 8:30 pm and for the past three years has involved hundreds of millions of people. This year, many countries held a moment of silence to remember Japan in its recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.
In California, lights were shut off at notable locations including the LAX airport sign, the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica’s pier, and the “Queen Mary” in Long Beach.
In Chicago, numerous important landmarks went dark including Willis Tower, the Merchandise Mart, and the Navy Pier Ferris wheel.
The concept originally began in Australia but quickly gained popularity and turned into a unifying global event. For many cities, the energy saved is enough to highlight the value of even small conservation efforts.
“Let us use 60 minutes of darkness to help the world see the light,” said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “The simple and powerful idea of switching off lights for an hour to drive action on climate change began in Sydney and has been embraced around the world.”
Co-founder of the event Andy Ridley explained that the event is meant to spread awareness about environmental concerns, and how we can unify to battle against such problems. “What it is meant to be about is showing what can happen when people come together,” he said, as quoted by Patty Daily New.
But he says they never expected Earth Hour to become so widespread. “We didn’t imagine right at the beginning… it would be on the scale that it is now. And the fact that it is so cross cultural, beyond borders and race and religion,” he said.
In many cities, there was a noticeable drop in power use. According to The Star, power use in Toronto dropped 5 percent. But this was half the reduction that was achieved at last year’s Earth Hour in the city. In 2009, the city saw a 15 percent drop.
Experts suggest that the event has lost its novelty, but the WWF says it has spread across more countries than ever before. The event is meant to be both symbolic and a united effort as a globe.
Many organizations celebrated the hour in their own creative ways. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Maryland Science Center celebrated their own version of Earth Hour between 3 and 4 pm and involved their young visitors in special science experiments during that hour, sans-electricity.
All lights, computers, and other electric equipment were turned off while the children enjoyed interactive gadgets. The centere normally runs high-tech displays, but during the hour they performed experiments such as using lenses to make telescopes. One scientist used the hour to display the planetarium and show the visitors what stars they would see that night if they celebrated Earth Hour.
The first Earth Hour in 2007 involved 2.2 million people and 2,000 businesses across Australia. By 2008, the event had globalized. Another year later and hundreds of millions of people were participating. In India and other emerging economies, participation greatly increased this year, doubling from last year.
Earth Hour’s founders are encouraging people to take the idea of conservation beyond the hour and into their daily lives.