An hour to celebrate Earth

Mar 25, 2012
Photo by: stock photo The Eiffel Tower in Paris is one of many global landmarks to go dark during Earth Hour.

My kids are thrilled that this Saturday, March 31, at exactly 8:30 p.m., we will be celebrating what has become a favorite annual event in our house: Earth Hour.

The event began in 2007 as a joint effort by World Wildlife Fund and "The Sydney Morning Herald," resulting in most of Sydney’s two-million-plus citizens, as well as 2,000 businesses, turning off their non-essential lights for 60 minutes as a symbolic call to action on climate change. The next year, more than 50 million people participated. And last year, 5,000 cities and towns from 135 countries on seven continents turned off their lights for one hour, to become the largest global environmental initiative in existence.

My kids don’t understand this. Not fully. But they like the videos I’ve shown them — YouTube clips from Tokyo, Paris and Bangkok. Huge skylines of brightly lit buildings going dark as their residents gather outside to watch, often cheering. My kids cheer, too. No matter the reason, they think it’s awfully cool to spend an hour in the candlelight.  The fact that others are doing it, too, makes it a sort of global pajama party.

Nina, age 10, has already made certain to choose her favorite candle for our kitchen table. (This year’s pick is a new blue number promising to smell like a tropical breeze. We’ll see.) As a budding chef, she would like us to serve ecologically-minded snacks. I recommended broccoli because (a) it looks like little trees and (b) it’s easy, but she feels we need to get more creative. Luckily, she has a few more days to thumb through her cookbooks.

Torin, age 7, thinks we should play football by candlelight because (a) he likes football and (b) danger is always appealing. His father and I denied his request, but his sister has taken over marketing and we are set for hearings on Operation Earth-ball.

Aside from snacks and candlelight and the thrilling potential for sports-related house burnings, I enjoy Earth Hour for both the symbolism of it and for the way my mind takes flight during that hour. I like to image city dwellers across the globe, treated to the vastness of a wide-open, star-strewn sky they rarely see. I image hatchling sea turtles, otherwise doomed to struggle toward brightly-lit resorts, now heading to the open arms of the moon reflecting sea. I imagine night creatures pushed to undeveloped tracts outside suburbs awakening to a deeper instinct. Instead of kilowattage and global finances and diminishing polar ice caps, it is these simple images I share with my children as they listen in the candles’ glow.

We talk about our family’s efforts to create a more sustainable planet: how we choose products with less packaging, and recycle, and use energy-efficient light bulbs. Last year we decided to do a litter pick-up day, and to plant a few more trees on our property — blossoming trees, which would help the local bee population. Celebration and new ideas. That’s our Earth Hour.

Just as importantly, though, we talk about personal power. I try to explain that every individual who ever changed the world started out as a kid with optimism. One person’s choices can make a difference, I tell them, and one person plus another one can make a bigger difference. I tell them they’re doing that now, seated at our kitchen table in the darkness — one family in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, joining with millions of other families across the globe sitting at the family dining table, and individuals at café tables by darkened city skylines, or small groups of friendly, determined strangers marking the occasion together in town squares or city parks. All those people, telling their tales and sharing their ideas, all of them with a common optimism.

“We are making a difference, my darlings,” I whisper to my children. “You are making a difference.”

Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the book "No Room for Doubt" (Penguin Group, 2009). She welcomes feedback at www.AngelaDove.com

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