Dim, dim the lights

A weekly column from Jim Taylor

Turn off your lights on Saturday night!

Although not necessarily for the reasons advanced by the organizers of Earth Hour.

Earth Hour takes place this Saturday night, between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m., local time. You’re urged to switch off all non-essential electricity. That doesn’t include refrigerators, traffic lights, or medical equipment.

In just four years, Earth Hour has become a global phenomenon. It started in 2007, in Sydney, Australia, as an ecological protest. Some two million people, and 2,000 businesses, turned out electric lights for one hour.

Last year, 128 countries and around a billion people joined in Earth Hour.

Earth Hour occurs on the final Saturday of March for a reason. Being close to the equinox – spring in the north, autumn in the south – it’s one of those rare days when the hours of daylight and darkness are roughly equal, everywhere. It doesn’t impose northern standards on the south, or vice versa.

It’s a symbolic demonstration against our spiraling energy demands. An Earth Hour web page says, “The point of Earth Hour is to show the world that a solution to the world’s environmental challenges is possible if we work on them together.”

Turning out unnecessary lights will reduce energy consumption. But only fractionally. Various writers have tried to estimate how much. It looks to me like little more than two to four per cent.

If everyone turned out all lights for one hour, an observer in the space station would see a band of darkness sweeping around the globe, time zone after time zone.

That would indeed be a powerful symbol.

But the observer might also notice that vast areas of the earth didn’t change. They were already dark. They don’t have electricity to turn off.

For me, the symbolic value of Earth Hour has less to do with demonstrating that we in the affluent world can reduce our energy consumption, and more to do with experiencing – if only for one hour – the life of people on half the planet.

It’s an act of solidarity, rather than protest.

We might also discover what author Alyson Huntly called “The Comforting Dark.”

It is, after all, in the dark that “sleep knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.” It’s in the dark that seeds germinate, shoots grow, and fetuses develop. It’s in the dark that we gather around campfires, tell stories, hold hands, make love…

An extra-terrestrial observer, watching our habits, might well infer that we in the industrial world have a phobia about darkness. We install streetlights, nightlights, headlights, and floodlights to drive back the darkness. We turn night into artificial day, so that we never have to cease our endless busy-ness.

We conquer darkness; we don’t welcome it.

Perhaps we have taken too literally the metaphor that equates darkness with sin, ignorance, and backwardness.

Earth Hour could be an opportunity to rediscover what our benighted kin around the world already know – that darkness is a time of closeness, of community, of renewal.

So turn out your lights on Saturday night.







Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca.