Yes, Earth Hour is symbolic. Not much will change materially if you switch off all the non-essential lights for an hour on one day. Just one day. And yet, it’s something you shouldn’t ignore. Many actions which have sparked significant changes have indeed been symbolic.
The Dandi March of 1930, culminating in picking up a fistful of salt, was a token act, a symbol of rebellion. A pure act of symbolism. It probably gave more impetus to the freedom movement in India than any other single action. The march was recently recreated to mark 75 years of India’s Independence. You can go back a couple of centuries to the Boston Tea Party – after all, what difference could some chests of tea being chucked overboard make to the then greatest nation on Earth? Tokens and symbolic acts are important. They make a statement.
Almost imperceptibly, Earth Hour has been a significant achiever that brings into focus the environment. These range from legislative changes in many parts of the world to large reforestation projects. Like most great movements, Earth Hour has had humble beginnings. Today, it may seem strange at how small it was. All that happened in 2007 was a switch-off in a single city, Sydney. The intent then was to call attention to the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.
But the pace picked up very rapidly, and by 2009 India was already observing Earth Hour. It now marks its presence across the seven continents, 190 countries, and an international space station. What has been added on has been the concern with the rapid loss of biodiversity and the impact on our balance with nature. How many of us would’ve noted that there has been a staggering 68% decline in wildlife populations on average since 1970, as reported in the authoritative WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020.
Year after year, there’ve been symbolic acts which no one could overlook. Landmarks across India from Howrah Bridge to India Gate switching off for an hour have never been missed – and have attracted tremendous public and media attention. But the Earth Hour isn’t about the big things that ‘they’ do. It’s all about the small things that you and I can do. After all, the hour is a time to look inwards and take stock of the little things in our daily lives. When did you or I last think of the excesses in our consumption or our lifestyles’ non-sustainable nature?
Yes, like every movement, Earth Hour has its share of critics. Principally the argument has been on the negligible impact that turning off extra lights for the hour has in measurable terms. “What difference will just an hour a year make?” is the counterview. This argument probably misses the power of the mind – to think together, to focus and imperceptibly start a shift.
2021 will be different. With the pandemic, we’ve globally experienced first hand what havoc breaking the link with nature can cause. Perhaps it has made humankind more modest. Perhaps not. But it has forced a degree of much-needed self-reflection. Spending an hour together is a powerful way of synergising intent. With intent, the action will follow.
2021 will be different even in the way we observe the event. Earth Hour has, traditionally, been marked by major large scale activities. This year, to avoid physical congregations, it’s quite adequate to support the hour on your mobile phones, tapping into the explosive reach of social media. Volunteers worldwide have created several ready-to-use tools that will find their way into your gadgets – do your bit to pass the message on. After all, the impact of sparking off millions of conversations about nature cannot be insignificant. The effect of the gesture, and the solidarity it communicates, will cut across all boundaries. And you don’t even need to step out of your home.
Yes, do your bit today. The Earth Hour is less about the hour itself but a lot about Earth. This is what our descendants will inhabit long after we’re gone. Climate change and the destruction of biodiversity will impact their wellbeing. We owe it to them. Do switch off, and use the hour to reflect and converse on this. All of us matter. And so does Mother Earth.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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