Neighbours assemble for Earth Hour on a cool night in 2008
While I admire the intent of Earth Hour, I've also been critical of this now annual demonstration of interest in sustainability by governments, businesses and individuals. It's become more of a feel good exercise for political leaders, who throw giant mock light switches in order to exaggerate their commitment to sustainability.
Symbolism has its place, so if this annual show is the only time when most of us are actually talking about reducing energy use, then Earth Hour serves a small purpose. But as someone who has observed this occasion for the past three years now, I've discovered that it has an even more valuable outcome. It is a way for us to tune out, turn off and get to know each other.
A couple of years ago some of us in our neighbourhood decided to throw an impromptu Earth Hour gathering – see above. Unlike last night's relatively mild early spring weather, 2008 was much colder with freezing rain in the forecast. Still, out came the canopy, Coleman stove and candles, and pots to brew up dozens of cups of hot chocolate. Earth Hour became a community gathering for about 40 kids and grown-ups, who each brought a mug and bundled up for the weather.
Last night we weren't quite so ambitious. Just some neighbours came over for a potluck, while our kids played together. When 8:30 arrived, all the candles were lit around the house, and off went the screening of Empire Strikes Back for the youngins. For the hour quiet conversation around candlelight replaced a background ambience of light sabre swinging and the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids.
I'm sure it was the same in homes and restaurants around town who dimmed the lights, and let people converse. Very few homes on our block dimmed the lights during Earth Hour, and I bet many of them didn't have as much fun as we had.