Earth Hour: a gimmicky turn-off for Torontonians?
This evening (March 31), Toronto’s skyline is supposed to go dark for the 60 minutes of Earth Hour. Our decision to join millions of others around the world and sit in the gloom for a while is meant to be a powerful symbol of our collective determination to save the planet. But lately in Toronto, there have been more than a few cracks in the curtain of darkness.
For me, my earliest memory of Earth Hour also happens to be my most vivid.
Taking part in the “lights off for an hour” event aimed at raising awareness of energy conservation in 2008, I found myself sitting by candlelight along with a group of friends on one of the top floors of a downtown condo. As I stepped onto the balcony, I was looking out upon the utter blackness of the city skyline; a powerful representation of our collective participation in the much-hyped event.
While the image provided a stark contrast to the skyline typically awash in lights from apartment windows, it wasn’t terribly surprising. Earth Hour, after all, had been a major water cooler topic in the preceding weeks as a source of unity and connectedness that Torontonians were excited to participate in.
Fast forward four years and that same buzz is nowhere to be found heading into the fifth annual Earth Hour. The WWF-organized endeavor, which began in Australia in 2007 and quickly spread around the globe, has seen its novelty diminish to the point of rather underwhelming returns in Toronto.
A Toronto Star article released shortly after Earth Hour 2011 revealed that power use had dropped just five per cent throughout the city of Toronto, down from 10 per cent in 2010 and 15 per cent in 2009. That five per cent drop still represents roughly 35,000 homes or 12 skyscrapers going dark, but the regression is in contrast to other parts of the world where participation continues to rise.
WWF Canada, for its part, disputes that the event is in decline. Spokesperson Zoe Caron is quick to point to both national and international growth in participation.
“We've found that involvement leading into Earth Hour is up 10 per cent from last year,” says Caron, “with 142 countries participating and over 10 million Canadians expected to take part.”
Still, the organization has shown signs of trying to inject new life into Earth Hour. WWF has launched a campaign of TV spots and reeled in a big fish with the NHL recently coming on as a corporate partner (all teams, including the Leafs, will play under dimmed lighting tomorrow evening).
But just how engaged are Torontonians this time around?
“It seems like Earth Hour came out of nowhere this year,” says 30-year-old Toronto resident Robin De Vuono, who celebrated the event in the past but only became aware of its 2012 date this week. “It used to be built up way in advance.”
On the other hand, others suggest that the promotion has been just fine, but take issue with what they see as the corporate-oriented nature of the event.
"I understand what WWF is trying to do," acknowledges another resident who has watched Earth Hour from his downtown condo in recent years, "but the emphasis on corporate sponsors gives the whole thing less of a communal feel."
The success of Earth Hour will ultimately depend upon how you wish to measure it. Plenty of people will still take part, but will those same people truly feel engaged in saving the planet?
Earth Hour, March 31, 8:30 p.m.