Earth hour in the time of COVID-19: this year’s edition gives a chance for true reflection.

Earth hour is March 28, 2020 at 8:30pm

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On March 28 people around the world will mark Earth Hour by switching off their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 pm for the sake of the planet. It’s one of those things that’s easy to have good intentions for, but when it actually comes around your hockey team has a must-win match, or it’s your girlfriend’s birthday party (who knew so many people were born in March!?) or your friends are meeting at the local bar for beers and, well, you really like beers. Life gets in the way. But not this year. This year, thanks to COVID-19, life consists almost entirely of being at home with the lights on. There’s no sport, there are no parties and bars are no-go, bru. There’s never been a better time to flip the switch and use Earth Hour for what it was intended for in the first place: reflection and commitment. 

The cynics among us might question how much impact it can have to turn the lights off for one hour out of 8,760 in a year, but this misses the point. It’s not just having the lights off that matters, it’s also what you choose to do with that time, and how often you (and your loved ones) think back to that time in the course of the coming year. The fundamental idea of Earth Hour is that it’s a symbol of a commitment to do more, a commitment to make lasting changes and take positive steps for the health of our planet. 

The best thing you can do this Earth Hour is spend the time in reflection and conversation. In the context of a virus that’s crippling the human world, there’s never been a better time to think about what it means to be a person on Earth. As a species we’ve turned the planet into our playground. Middle-aged men who’d struggle to climb a long flight of stairs can summit a massive mountain after three lunchtime beers in the comfort of a padded seat, just to ski back down for their amusement. We can breathe underwater, fly, talk to each other from opposite ends of the world. We really are amazing. But if there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that we’re also vulnerable. In many ways we’re animals like any other. We get sick. We panic (buy). We struggle. For all our incredible intelligence, the focus of our entire species has been captured by something that doesn’t need intelligence to cripple us. It’s something that we can’t hear or see or smell, but that is very much part of our world. Coronavirus is a very real example of the fact that human existence is not impervious to the infinitely complex nature of our living planet. It’s a perfect example that there is no such thing as the ‘human world’ that exists somehow detached from the natural world. This should be a clear reminder that we need to take the necessary steps to make sure that we’re prepared for what life on earth has in store for us in the years to come.

With that in mind, dedicate part of the hour to eight minutes of inspiration, with Sir David Attenborough’s take on how to save our planet. Everything always feels better with a bit of Davey A, and this video is definitely no exception. 

Talk to the kids about what’s going on. Talk to them about how they’re connected to the living world, about the ‘circle of life’ and how it’s all connected, and importantly, talk to them about how we need to care for the planet we call home. Answer their questions. It may not be an easy conversation, but you’ll be glad you had it. When Earth Hour is over, put on the Lion King (the original, obviously) to continue the theme in a way that makes everything feel a little more OK.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the focus on social distancing it’s that our individual actions matter. Some things are out of our control, like viruses and the global economy. We’re quickly learning that others are relatively easy to change when we make it a priority to do so. Use this hour to focus on mitigating your environmental impact by paying attention to the things you can control. Think about your daily routine and what you can change to reduce your impact, to apply the idea of ‘flattening the curve’ to climate impact. 

Spend time doing some research into which part of your lifestyle or routine makes the biggest impact. Try and get info specific to your local setting if possible. For example, our Vancouver team recently learned that because of how our power is generated, electricity use in our city is a relatively small contributor to our overall footprint. Bundling up under blankets and turning down the heating would make far more of a difference than obsessing over electricity use in our specific case. Likewise, if you live in drought-prone areas you might want to consider focusing on ways to limit your water consumption.

Plan for post-corona life. We don’t know how long we’re going to be isolating for, but being in the same room all day, every day, for weeks on end is enough to make anyone long to get away. Why not make a list of the beautiful places you’d like to see that are in driving distance, or better yet, a bus or bike ride away? Plan a trip that doesn’t require a flight, or a visit to one of the national or provincial parks that require our support in their mission to protect the continent’s wild places. 

However you spend Earth Hour this year, we encourage you to look at it as an opportunity to pause; a chance to stop scrolling endlessly and give yourself the time to really think and reflect on the current situation and our role in the world. This crazy time will pass and you’ll be back to parties and bars and close social proximity, wishing you had an hour sometime to just flip the switch and think in the dark.