Earth Hour is a global movement that mobilizes people to show their support for the environment by switching off their lights for one hour every year. Organized by WWF, the movement began in Sydney in 2007 and has since spread to 7,000 cities & towns in 150 countries & territories.
An editorial in the Philippines Daily Inquirier mentions:
“First held in 2007, Earth Hour has grown from a citywide activity in Sydney, Australia, to a worldwide event held every March to cut power consumption and highlight the need to raise awareness of climate change and the dangers everyone faces…
“Earth Hour has happily become a public-private partnership, with individual and corporate entities as well as government agencies taking part in the collective action.”
In its seven years, Earth Hour has achieved tremendous scale and is widely regarded as the “the world’s largest movement for the planet.” Now, Earth Hour strives to go beyond one hour and drive meaningful change – both as a natural evolution of the movement as well as a response to the rising cynicism and criticism it faces.
Local chapters of WWF lead the efforts to introduce Earth Hour into more cities and towns, partner with local authorities and organize Earth Hour events. The movement also carves out a role for individuals and organizations. People can volunteer as Earth Hour organizers, write to local authorities to support the cause, introduce Earth Hour within their schools work places and communities, and spread the world with posters, online banners and email signatures. And, organizations are encouraged to participate, share their story and partner or sponsor events.
People, celebrities and organizations have marked their commitment for Earth Hour in diverse ways and helped build the profile of the movement. For instance, Google turned its homepage black during Earth Hour 2008. National Geographic Asia and Cartoon Network suspended programming during Earth hour 2010. Celebrity activists and ambassadors spread the word amongst their vast following on social media. And in 2013, astronaut Chris Hadfield contributed to the buzz by tweeting photos of cities before and after Earth Hour from outer space.
People, organizations and local leaders participated to mark their solidarity for the environment and commitment to sustainable living. As Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje commented:
“Earth Hour is another way to highlight Ann Arbor’s commitment to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and raise awareness on how citizens and government play a part in addressing climate change.”
Organizations also seem to view Earth Hour as other established days, such as Valentine’s Day or Women’s Day, and participate to engage with their audience.
In addition to grassroots efforts, local chapters of WWF usually organize concerts and screenings around the event, and local campaigns such as encouraging Singaporean government agencies to turn up thermostats by one degree, and giving away a solar power system to an Australian community that pledges to switch to renewable energy. Blogger Anna Rudenko shares:
“WWF Canada is doing its part by writing the first crowd-sourced anthem for Earth Hour—creative minds are invited to create lyrics for the songs, which will express their deep love for the planet and explain why we should take care of it.”
Globally, Earth Hour encourages participating cities to switch off lights at prominent landmarks, and has recently launched I Will if You Will and Earth Hour City Challenge to increase reach and inspire commitments beyond one hour.
Launched in 2011, I Will if You Will is a platform that enables people, celebrities and brands to rally their networks around the cause in a fun way. As Duncan Macleod, editor of The Inspiration Room, summarizes:
“The IWIYW campaign uses the Earth Hour YouTube channel to encourage people to share personal dares with the world, by asking “What are you willing to do to save the planet?” The concept of the campaign is based on a social contract for two parties – connecting one person, business or organization to a promise and their friends, family, or customers to a challenge.”
Earth Hour encourages people to upload their own I Will challenges and lets them choose from nine You Will challenges, thereby retaining control and ensuring meaningful challenges are proposed. The You Will challenges are also a fun way to show people what they can do beyond limiting their electricity usage.
Launched in 2011, the annual Earth Hour City Challenge invites cities to compete for the title Earth Hour Capital. Cities submit development plans that show their commitment to switching to renewable energy and an international team of judges selects a winner. Winning cities gain access to technical assistance and financial grants.
Linda Nowlan noted:
“With more than 70 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions generated by cities, the Earth Hour City Challenge is designed to mobilize action and support from cities in the global transition toward a climate-friendly future.”
Cities also compete for a People’s Choice Award, based on public voting. People can vote by clicking on a button, sharing a photo of their city on Instagram or by posting a suggestion on how the city can become more sustainable.
While both I Will if You Will and the City Challenge are designed to encourage cities, organizations and people to go beyond the one hour, the overall movement is still associated mainly with the one hour lights off. The Earth Hour FAQ maintains this positioning:
“Earth Hour does not purport to be an energy/carbon reduction exercise, it is a symbolic action.”
Blogger Jeff Sparrow points out that this opens the doors for criticism:
“The problem, then, with purely symbolic actions like Earth Hour is that they might actually foster cynicism more than dispel it. Spratt, for instance, argues that only a mobilization on the scale we saw during the Second World War will make any difference. If that’s right, then reassuring people that all they need to is turn off a switch is deeply disorienting.”
Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, recently published the article Earth Hour Is a Colossal Waste of Time—and Energy, in which he calls for more attention on real solutions to global warming and less trivialization of the issue:
“[Earth Hour’s] vain symbolism reveals exactly what is wrong with today’s feel-good environmentalism. Advertisement Earth Hour teaches us that tackling global warming is easy.”
The article has been shared 26,500 times, has rallied together Earth Hour skeptics and has sparked a debate around the role of Earth Hour.
Criticism around the movement echoes the concerns people have raised around slacktivism and movements such as Kony2012. Gordon Hinds commented:
“We have a habit of doing faddish things that we feel make a difference and make us emotionally satisfied that we belong to some sort of like minded community, but the brutal reality is that nothing actually is achieved at all.”
Several people argue otherwise, that large scale acts of solidarity are crucial to bringing climate change back into the limelight. Rupp Carriveau, a professor at University of Windsor who specializes in clean energy tech, commented:
“For the purists — yes, I can understand the argument against [Earth Hour]. But I still think that, in the big picture, it makes sense to unplug people for a while and have them think about it.”
Indeed, Earth Hour seems to have entered what social activist Bill Moyer terms “Stage 5: Movement Identity Crisis” in his “Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements,” where activists expect rapid success and often feel hopelessness and burn out:
“The problem, however, is not that the movement has failed to achieve its goals, but that expectations that its goal could possibly be achieved in such a short time were unrealistic.”
Building awareness is a crucial step for a movement, but today’s audience demands meaningful action and real change.
Marketer Adam Ferrier’s reflection on the Kony2012 campaign holds true for Earth Hour as well:
“Through social media and the wisdom of the crowds everything that’s based on image, and lacking in substance gets torn apart.”
“It’s all about the simplest action rather than creating some big, grand plan. Don’t make it too hard for people to participate. Invite participation, but don’t require a huge commitment upfront. It’s also important to build people up over time, taking bigger and bigger actions.”
In addition to more meaningful actions, more accountability and measurement are also key for a movement of this size. Nidhi Makhija, member of the MSLGROUP Insights Network, believes that data can play a larger role here:
“Earth Hour has launched several initiatives that are driving real change – the Earth Hour Forest in Uganda, and the I Will if You Will petition to pass an environment protection law in Russia. Now, Earth Hour needs to start measuring the impact of these large scale actions and giving people ways to measure the impact of their individual actions. Companies like Opower and Green Bean Recycle are already using data to drive behavioral change.”
(Earth Hour took place from 8:30pm to 9:30pm on March 23, 2013.)
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