Earth Hour, the 60 minutes at the end of March each year when the world’s population is encouraged to turn off non-essential lights, has grown from a local event in Sydney, Australia in 2007 to a global initiative with over a billion participants. The benefits of such a movement are far-reaching, from quantifiable reductions in power usage to non-quantifiable changes in perspective, behavior, and policy.
While the organizers of Earth Hour still state that the event is symbolic and therefore do not measure its impact in the amount of carbon or energy saved, many researchers have dedicated time to quantifying power reductions in various cities across the world. A 2014 study that looked at six years of Earth Hours in 10 countries showed that energy consumption decreased an average of 4%. Critics say that the decrease is so close to zero as to have a neutral effect on the environment, especially when one considers other side effects of the power outage such as traffic jams and increased use of candles, both of which cause higher carbon dioxide emissions.
To properly assess the total impact that Earth Hour has on the world’s environment, however, one must look at many factors besides total power usage or carbon consumption. For example, the awareness of the issue of climate change and the idea that one person or one city can benefit the world’s environment does not go away after the 60 minutes are complete. Ideally, Earth Hour results in real behavioral change by people around the globe and support of the notion that the negative impacts of people on the earth can be reversed.
Earth Hour organizers hope that significant policy change can be attained at local, national, and even international levels by increasing the conversation dedicated to climate change impacts. Government participation is already high, with national landmarks and monuments like the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace dimming their lights to mark the event. It stands to reason that Earth Hour generates greater political pressure to enact measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Additionally, countless fundraising efforts by celebrities, politicians, and more have resulted in supporting a wide array of projects which benefit environmental causes such as reforestation and coral reef protection. The increased use of digital technology like social media outlets and crowdfunding platforms have also contributed to the success of helping fund on-the-ground environmental projects throughout the world.