Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour - Because We Hunger to be Part of Something Bigger than Ourselves

Cynics love to attack popular campaigns, and that is exactly what is happening with Earth Hour.

"Won't Earth Hour be a failure if the entire city doesn't go dark?" a friend asked last week of the campaign to have residents and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area and around the world turn out their lights at 8 p.m. this Saturday for an hour to show support for action on climate change.

"Do you really think turning off your lights for an hour is going to change anything?" my friend added. "Isn't it just a feel-good thing? And why is the Star involved at all in it? Shouldn't a newspaper be a fair and neutral observer?"

Such skepticism isn't limited to my cynical friends. A columnist for The Globe and Mail this week labelled Earth Hour "a sham," a "racket," "flimflammery."

Any doubt I may have had about the phenomenon that is Earth Hour was erased earlier this month when I walked into an arena in Ajax for my regular Monday night hockey league game. There, in the main entrance, was a huge Earth Hour poster touting an event to be held Saturday night at the Ajax town hall as part of the community's plan to mark the campaign.

That poster drove home the message that, cynics excepted, Earth Hour has touched a chord with Canadians like nothing else in recent years. <Toronto Star>

I don't think anyone imagines that shutting off our lights for an hour is going to change the world. It will save some carbon, but only a relatively tiny amount. The vast carbon pumping machine of world industry and commerce will go on as usual. But, well, it might be cool.

Many of you reading this will remember the great 2003 blackout. A disaster, on the one hand, but at the same time, it was an experience. That first night, it was extremely hot, and extremely dark. People came out of their homes and into the streets and yards of the city. We all blinked - the stars! We could see the stars!

Nobody really knew what was going on, but someone with a car would listen to the news and then people would talk, and soon we all knew this wasn't a terrorist attack or the end of the world or anything. I finally met my upstairs neighbours. Everyone was sharing their ice cream, since it would have melted anyways. The pizza place (with a gas oven) was selling slices (cash only) by candlelight. My drunk next-door neighbour (yes, the naked one), proud owner of a pair of flashlights, tried to direct traffic at a nearby intersection but soon gave up. In fact that night (once the horrible commute was over!) people tended to walk instead of drive. If they did drive, they drove slowly. The whole city was transformed. It was actually quite beautiful.

It wasn't really the darkness that caused the togetherness. It was being forced to pause the hyperactive drive. For that night, we took a break from the run around: We need so damn many things/ To keep our dazed lives going/We can be bound, run around/ Fooled animal bite its tail

No television to watch, too dark to read, too hot to stay indoors. All that was left was interacting with fellow humanity. I think in our market-driven super-capitalist individualist society, we crave this, we hunger for it. I think we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That is why people go to church, and that is why we will participate in Earth Hour. Plus, it's a great excuse to get out in the city for a free concert or one of the other cool events.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you and others can move to Africa to get all those great things you desire.Don't forget your Mosquito net, I hear Malaria kills a lot of people there.
One great thing about Earth Hour is the PARTY!yeehaa! Maybe it should be a national holiday too.

jen x said...

I think it's a terrific idea -- I blogged on this today, too. Symbolism is the nexus of hope. Anything that brings people together is cool.

Really enjoying your blog!

Hungry child said...

nice blog! great post! thanks very much for sharing!

dirk buchholz said...

I made sure I turned all my light on...
Couldn't help myself I guess I am just cynical that way ;)

Red Jenny said...

ah, dirk, you probably talk during movies too. Like to ruin things for everyone else, dontcha