Is Earth Hour largely symbolic? Absolutely!

Image courtesy of Earth Hour Global via Flickr

Earth Hour serves as a symbolic reminder to cities, industries and governments of the importance of taking action.

I’ve been hearing the phrase ‘largely symbolic’ at lot – most recently downplaying the significance of Britain’s credit rating downgrade, and certainly in relation to a slew of environmental issues from local fracking bans to the EU vote against carbon emission trading schemes.

This Saturday is Earth Hour, and lights will be switched off from Buddhist temples in Bangkok to the Eiffel tower, and from the world’s most modern casino to the Athens Acropolis. It’s easy to argue that these gestures are largely symbolic, and of course one hour of us sitting in the dark is not going to change anything. Or is it?

The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and had some two million people participate. Last year’s Earth Hour had hundreds of million people participating in 7,000 cities across 152 countries.

At the start it was largely about climate change awareness. And regardless of where you sit on the politics or economics of climate change, there is no doubt that they way we generate and consume energy is affecting our planet.

We’ve changed from a mode of passive awareness to one of active responsibility, and that challenge is being answered by people in every corner of the world – in both grand and elegantly humble ways. This is reflected in this year’s “I will if you will” Earth Hour campaign.

  • Perhaps the youngest Earth Hour participant is a five year old Greek boy called Panagiotis who plans on giving up his beloved chocolate (and he really loves chocolate) if 50 people make their balconies greener.
  •  15 year old Nathi Mzileni of Swaziland single handedly created a local Earth Hour movement that has captured the support of his government, the media and local businesses and the participation of some 10,000 people.
  •  In Bali, Indonesia, a grade eight class has pledged to go paperless the rest of the year if 1,000 people accept their challenge to plant a tree.

Of course to reach a tipping point for climate change, we need more that individual contributions. Earth Hour also serves as a symbolic reminder to cities, industries and governments of the importance of taking action.

Vancouver, Canada was voted as this year’s people’s choice winner of the Earth Hour City Challenge, designed to celebrate cities that have shown innovation, commitment and action in becoming a more sustainable place to live. This included investments in green mobility, increased producer responsibility standards, and a neighborhood energy program that is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70% by 2020.

These types of dramatic transformations are enabled by technologies such as building automation systems, energy efficient transportation, and power grids that can integrate smarter energy choices. But regardless of the technologies, economics and policy makers, we won’t get to a tipping point on climate change without personal participation. This is how symbolism leads to meaningful change.

So go ahead and get a little symbolic on Saturday night. If you really want to go green you can watch Theresa Kerr’s recipe for carbon friendly Rock’n Raw Salad Spread with Spinach Cream Dressing video. Personally, I intend to turn off the lights and celebrate Panagiotis’s victory with some chocolate.

You can find out what’s going on in your corner of the world here.

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About the author

Philip Lewin

I'm one of the many people sharing ABB's passion and great stories for robotics and industrial ingenu-ity. It’s exciting for me to be at the leading edge of a new age for one of the most fundamental things that people do - we make things. At the same time, the awareness has never been greater that economic progress, higher living standards and new ways of making things cannot come at the expense of our environment. I’m proud to contribute to this exciting and important discussion.
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