For one hour on Saturday at 8:30 PM (whatever your local time), lights in businesses, homes, and landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Acropolis and the Eiffel Tower will go out for the World Wildlife Foundation's (WWF) Earth Hour. Companies including Walgreens, Coca-Cola, and JPMorgan have pledged to turn out their lights, and the mayors of cities like Boston, Mumbai, and Miami have proclaimed support for the cause. But if you really want to make a difference, keep your lights on.
Earth Hour is officially the kickoff for the WWF's campaign to get world leaders to agree on a global deal at UN climate talks in December 2009, but it has morphed into much more than that. Turning out the lights for that one blessed hour is, according to WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts, "casting a vote in support of the future of the Earth." Well, if that's all we have to do to show that we're in favor of sustainability, sign me up.
The truth is obviously more complicated than that, but there's a real problem with Earth Hour: one hour of complete darkness is sending the wrong message to anyone who is not a staunch environmentalist. As George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network, points out in the UK Guardian, "Asking people to sit in the dark plays very well to a widely held prejudice that 'the greens' want us all to go back to living in caves." Darkness symbolizes fear and negativity (ever seen a depressed teenager dress in all white?) while light symbolizes innovation, creativity, and everything else we love about civilization. There's a reason that cartoonists put a lightbulb above characters' heads when they come up with ideas.
And the thing is, we don't have to hunker down in the dark and forsake our worldly pleasures to be sustainable. Yes, you might have to get rid of that Hummer, but you can replace it with a sleek Tesla Model S. Yes, it might be more environmentally-friendly to put solar panels on your roof than to feed off the grid, but it will also save you money. Maybe it's more sustainable to eat local food, but with cheap, tasty and healthy food available at your local farmer's market (or Burgerville, if you're in Washington or Oregon), why wouldn't you?
Turning off the lights is poor symbolism. We need light, innovators, and creative people to get us through our energy crisis. Awareness isn't always about cutting back. It's also about moving forward. So today at 8:30 PM, I'm going to leave the lights on—at least until I leave the room.