An hour of lights off on Earth not enough

by Megan Fincher

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On Saturday, for a single hour, the world seen from space went dark. Well, that was the idea, anyway.

That night, the World Wildlife Fund organized and led “hundreds of millions of people around the world in over 7,000 cities in 162 countries” in turning off their lights for one hour, as a way to recognize “Earth Hour.”

The idea behind this annual tactic is to display an international “commitment to protect the planet,” and that simple changes in energy consumption can make a difference in the larger conservation and climate pictures.

The World Wildlife Fund also boasts that in the United States “we made a big statement to the world on how much we care about the planet.”

And what was that big statement?

According to the conservation organization, “Over 50,000 people [in the U.S.] joined the movement along with major landmarks, cities and businesses, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York, the Willis Tower in Chicago, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and the Space Needle in Seattle.” You can see a full list of cities and landmarks that participated on their website.

The U.S. Census Bureau via its population clock estimates that there are 317.8 million (and counting) people in the United States. Meanwhile, the world population currently exceeds 7 billion.

In other words, roughly .016 percent of Americans participated in “Earth Hour.”

If we assume that the World Wildlife Fund meant 200 million people when it stated that “hundreds of millions of people around the world” participated in “Earth Hour,” that means only 3 percent of the world population turned off their lights. Giving the Fund the benefit of the doubt, if we say 800 million people participated, then that’s 11 percent of the world population.

Do I sound too cynical? I am, and I believe all of us should be.  

By now most people know there is a connection between climate change and the electricity we use. The National Environment Agency explains, “We can help to slow global warming by using electricity wisely. When less fossil fuels are burnt to generate electricity, less environmentally harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases would be produced.”

In its 2001 statement Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began by saying, “Our Creator has given us the gift of creation: the air we breathe, the water that sustains life, the fruits of the land that nourish us, and the entire web of life without which human life cannot flourish. … We believe our response to global climate change should be a sign of our respect for God's creation.”

Most importantly, the bishops go on to say that we must look beyond our belief in climate change and recognize that “global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.”

On Monday, Pope Francis announced that his prayer intention for the month of April is that “governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.”

Blessed John Paul II took this idea even further in his message for the 1990 World Day of Peace. He noted that “the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone. … its various aspects demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing the duties and obligations that belong to individuals, peoples, States and international community.”

John Paul also gave a strong warning: “When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations.”

Turning off our lights for one hour once a year is not going to save this precious planet, the home that God created for all of His creatures, be they person or plant, animal or air.

Every hour must be “Earth Hour” if we are going to take the current ecological crisis seriously.  

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