On Saturday night between 8:30 and 9:30, you may notice that world seems darker. Don't panic, it's just Earth Hour, the WWF-sponsored event designed to raise awareness about how much energy we use.
The relative merits of the event in terms of energy saving and symbolism aside, Earth Hour has grown impressively in the last four years, from a Sydney, Australia-only event to a global holiday embraced by millions of people and thousands of businesses and municipalities. Last year, major monuments like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Taj Mahal turned off their exterior lights. Most of the Vegas strip went dark. Coca-Cola even turned off their Times Square Billboard.
This year, Walgreens plans on turning off its own Times Square billboard, the largest digital sign in the country. Hilton Hotels will be turning off their rooftop neon lights and business center equipment (send your faxes early!). Caesar's casinos will also turn off all outside marquees. The real estate firm CB Richard Ellis plans to turn off the lights off in 375 million square feet of property.
Other companies seem to be embracing the letter of participating in Earth Hour in order to get some green cred, but they're missing the spirit:
Verizon—which, to its credit, says its activities will save 45,000 kilowatt hours of energy—is only willing to dim its giant logo on the side of its lower Manhattan skyscraper. And Kmart and Sears excitedly proclaim that they will turn off "every other television and most computer monitors" on their sales floors. If they turned off all the TVs for one hour, would the loss of revenue be larger than whatever they gain from participating?
At its most basic, Earth Hour does promote a level of Luddism that is antithetical to what the environmental movement needs to be promoting: a clean-energy powered world that is just as fast moving as it is now. But stopping and taking a moment to reflect on the truly odd things we feel it's necessary to use energy for (a giant, glowing telephone company logo, or leaving all the TVs on in a store) is a helpful exercise. If anything, maybe a walk through an electric-billboard-free Times Square will make people more sensitive to the under-appreciated problem of light pollution.
[Photo from Flickr user Christian Haugen.]