Earth Hour is a Joke.

Via Gwen Bell
on Mar 29, 2009
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Earth Hour. Like Earth Day, But Shorter! Fit One into Your Busy Schedule Today!

via Gwen Bell (update: read her followup to the below here)

Right now “Earth Hour” is a trending topic on Twitter.

My response, when I saw it earlier today: “Our attention spans are so short now we’ve traded in Earth Day for Earth Hour?!”


Several people responded to me, telling me that it’s a supplement to Earth Day. And I applaud the sentiment. Still, I don’t think that what the Earth needs from us is one hour. I think the Earth needs us to rethink our habitual patterns. The Earth doesn’t need another pat internet meme, that much is for sure. We all turn off our lights for an hour tomorrow night and “give her a rest” so we feel better about ourselves—and convince ourselves we’re doing our part to stop global destruction.

elej’s Earth Hour Boulder video from a few years back:

But of course big businesses and pretty stars alike are getting in on the fun. It makes us feel like part of the solution. I live in Boulder, Colorado, and we have a strong activist community, and we’re not even doing enough here. Earth Hour is a joke. The fact that people are saying they are “getting ready for Earth Hour,” is a bigger joke. Preparing to read by candlelight for an hour tomorrow night? “Your light switch is your vote,” goes the video.

I get the part where people will flame me in the comments saying that “every little bit counts,” but I’m going to counter that if you want to do your part you will use Earth Hour to sit, meditate and consider your daily impact on the Earth. You will contemplate ways to change your behaviors for good.

The Earth doesn’t care whether or not you turn your lights off tomorrow night. But it might appreciate you taking a moment to reflect on ways to change your habitual patterns for the better, for good.


About Gwen Bell

Gwen Bell is the principal and founder of a downtown Boulder social web practice. Through consulting, speaking and conducting workshops, she helps her clients craft and share their stories on the web. A yoga practitioner and mindfulness advocate with a social media backbone, she's the May cover girl for Experience Life Magazine. She writes at Elephant Journal on topics closest to her heart. Two of her most popular posts on the site to date are Yoga = Social Media? and Earth Hour is a Joke.


46 Responses to “Earth Hour is a Joke.”

  1. Zane says:

    Amen! Welcome to bite sized America.

  2. mskogly says:

    You shouldn't have written the line about flaming and "every little bit counts" because now I have nothing to say 🙂

    I agree with you of course, and I take pride in doing my part for our earth in the few ways I can in my quiet litte way, but what I like about Earth Hour is not the direct environmental impact, but that fact that it is a very social way to commune over something. It is like that red ribbon people wear to support the fight against aids, or a "support our troops sign". It is a public display of community, and that in itself is vital!

    I'm looking forward to seeing how many of my neighbours will go dark tomorrow, I hope they all will join in, and then continue to recycle, buy used, and take long walks on the beach.

  3. Acquireworth says:

    When I heard about Earth Hour I figured the main purpose of it wasn't to let the earth "rest", but to get the conversation started on a much more personal level of how to live more sustainably. Like mskogly wrote above, the hour is more of a symbol and a social way to commune.

  4. Joana Smith says:

    "I get the part where people will flame me in the comments saying that “every little bit counts,” but I’m going to counter that if you want to do your part you will use Earth Hour to sit, meditate and consider your daily impact on the Earth. You will contemplate ways to change your behaviors for good."

    …I actually thought that that was what everyone as supposed to do during that hour! And if everyone did that, it would be great. I just don't think you should complain about things that are good, and why do you have to make Boulder look all self-righteous? That'll make everyone hate us!

    Sorry to be negative, fellow person working to help our mother.

  5. Roni, if you click some of the links above, we'll I'll just copy it here…you can see how realism, and negativity, sometimes inspires greater half-full glass action than casual positivity, which might be Gwen's intention.

    the basic point: we can, and must, and should do more. Earth Hour is communal, and fun, and eye-opening, maybe even romantic (candles, mmm)…but we all know it's not going to change shiite in and of itself. If, as Gwen warns, we go right back to our toxic, polluting, wasteful daily lives…then really Earth Hour is in danger of becoming more of an insult to lovely ol'Mother Earth than anything else.

  6. The joke is that if Gwen's title had been 'Earth Hour needs to be so much more' no one would react, contemplate…and as they say in the UN Charter "it's in the minds of men [and women, and children] that wars are made. Therefore it's only in the minds of men [ … ] that peace can be made."

  7. Roni says:

    True. It's not a joke but a very good point. Not sure I would have found you a different title. 🙂

  8. Acquireworth says:

    I recently found out about Earth Hour and really don't have feelings for it either way. It seems rather trendy, but I guess "being green" in general has become trendy.
    After reviewing the website I do see an overtone of making lasting change.
    For one, Earth Hour is about making a vote that will be turned into the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. It seems more like a protest to me.
    Two, the take action page mentions things like: find out how to reduce your carbon footprint and discuss how the climate change has affected you.
    Three, they are also asking for people to post what they do. I would think most people who take this hour seriously would do some sort of activity that encourages long term change.
    I under stand your rant, but in the end this little hour will probably do more good then bad.

  9. Evan Ravitz says:

    Evry chractr cnts!

  10. Elaine says:

    Of course, I agree and kudos to you Gwen for stepping up and expressing your views regardless of the response. I look at each step taken an opportunity to do better. And for many this is a huge step forward. I am going to use Earth Hour as a way to educate my children on our effect on the earth. Earth hour, in it's triviality and tininess is perfect for children to grasp. (Too bad we have to reduce it to this for big businesses as well.)

  11. A few posts on the burning toxic smelly dangers of conventional candles vs. candles that are good alternatives:

  12. Amen! Thanks for visiting. Here's to punchy titles!

  13. what was the other article, 'Chelle?

  14. Lily says:

    I plan on burning my home made soy candles with non-mercury containing wick… while reading a completely trashy romance novel. :oD Is Earth Hour a joke? Maybe. Does it get people to think about what exactly is using electricity that they need to turn off in their house? Definitely. Its not until you start unplugging everything in your house that uses electricity that you realize just _how much_ of it you use.

    I think Earth Hour, while silly to those of us trying to live a sustainable lifestyle every day, its still a visible means to people who are just now joining the cause. In the process, it causes no harm.

  15. It was here:… and you can click through to the original op-ed from there. It was… interesting.

  16. gwenbell says:

    Amy of Crunchy Domestic Goddess wonders about the Efficacy of Earth Hour. And reminds those participating to beware of candles: <a href=”” target=”_blank”> – have a read.

  17. Wendy says:

    I feel like everyone is missing the point of Earth Hour. It’s a symbolic gesture. Nobody thinks the the physical act of turning off your lights for one hour will impact global warming. But it’s the symbol of many millions of people turning off their lights for an hour that will bring about change. It’s about showing the world’s leaders that we do care about the issue of climate change and we would like them to do something about it. It’s about the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009 (the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012). This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for sparking such a lively debate!

  18. courtney says:

    it is evident to most of us that we all should be doing more for the planet — even the already sustainably minded folks… and that some people like to get off on doing more superficial, transient acts like earth hour but aren't really living sustainably on a day to day basis. and the point is… what exactly?

    i don't think the intention was to replace earth day but to create an event to boost awareness on energy use even if it just for one hour. i think in the post it even said that it was symbolic and would not technically make a climatic difference. it seems that you are stating the obvious, of course, the earth needs our participation for more than one hour but thanks for blogging on it!

  19. kate says:

    Gwen, is one hour of meditation going to change habitual patterns in any substantial way either? In my experience ..I try one day, I slip the next and on and on….its a practice. Sure a whole day of meditation is different from an hour…but the long term change is in the ongoing practice, no? So, isn't bringing awareness helpful in whatever form?..getting the ball rolling so to speak….setting the ground of awareness for an ongoing practice? And I totally agree with Wendy about making a statement for the systems change itself by the gesture. Gestures may appear weak to some…but sometimes even small step can have powerful Sort of like watching the breath…many think that is a "joke" too, eh?

  20. gwenbell says:

    George Marshall for the Guardian UK: Turning out the lights plays into the hands of our critics

    My follow-up: Earth Hour & The Dangers of Social Media:

  21. Joana Smith says:

    *you sure are one loud trash talkin' fairy!

  22. gwenbell says:

    I also like to stage dive at karaoke. In stilettos.

  23. gwenbell says:

    I want to argue for those in this "social media" space to be responsible.

    Perpetuating a meme, thoughtlessly and mindlessly, through retweets and unresearched blog posts is not responsible behavior. Many of the comments here have shown the desire for us to be responsible and take action beyond an hour. Hopefully my purpose is clear. I'm not here to trash talk. Yeah, I want to provoke discourse beyond one hundred and forty characters. But my end goal is not to piss you off, it's to make you _think_.

  24. ….more comments from our facebook page (become a fan:… )

    Liz Krause Williams at 11:22am March 28
    I'm a little disappointed in the negativity coming from elephant.

    ReportValerie Wevers Brandner at 11:36am March 28
    Right? Couldn't hurt, anyway.

    ReportLiz Joseph at 11:37am March 28
    I'm liking the opportunity for free and open dialogue about Earth Hour. Read the posts. I think it's great!

    ReportMary Ann Peters at 12:13pm March 28
    Imagine if the entire world didn't eat meat for 1 day!!! Going VEG would by far have the greatest impact. However, everyone should be a little more conscious of other bad habits too, as our conspicuous consumption has gotten out of hand.

    So order a Veggie Burger in the dark : )

    ReportDonald M. Arrant Jr. at 12:15pm March 28
    I find the general assertion that people are choosing to partake in this event to"feel better about ourselves" superficial and amateur at best. People are quick draw this argument out of their holsters without putting much thought into in thus finding themselves in a place where they waste their breath trying to elaborate and justify. Take for example the fact that gwen suggested that we use this time to meditate and reflect on how destructive our lives are towards the earth. I think this is a great idea but somewhat insulting, assuming that people have decided to turn off their lights without much thought as to why. She had mentioned Boulder being a hub for political and social activism but pointed out that ain't much getting done. Well, I am going to be quick to assert that people are too busy meditating and trying to better themselves before they go out and tackle the greater problems of the world as opposed to using experience has a chance to grow.

    ReportDonald M. Arrant Jr. at 12:22pm March 28
    i do have to commend the author for playing devil's advocate.

    ReportJennifer Stock at 1:19pm March 28
    just turn off you lights.
    instead of arguing and finding fault with everything, how about we just take whatever small action we can in the moment.
    It's a reminder.
    A place to start.
    and it does make a difference.
    may there be peace in the darkness…
    and then in the light…

    ReportDonald M. Arrant Jr. at 2:05pm March 28
    it is dialogue, not arguing per se. fine points though.

    ReportAlison Church at 2:08pm March 28
    voluntary simplicity 🙂 at 2:22pm March 28
    Jennifer, LKW:

    I'm all for Earth Hour, personally—but as editor I like to offer different, well-thought-out points of view.

    Gwen is an avid 'environmentalist'—she's just saying, I think, that casual symbolism won't get us where we need to go, esp when that symbolism is respresented by an impractical act on a day to day basis. Sometimes, being casually positive, Liz, can have a detrimental effect. Sometimes it's impt to 'face the music'—that the Kyoto Protocol of 20 years ago was considered a compromise by environementalists, and yet almost no one has met its goals…most have exceeded them by 100 plus percent.

    Yvon Chouinard, founder of eco, indie Patagonia, is one of my idols in this regard. He wakes up each morning, faces the facts, says "ah we're all going to hell in an SUV" and then works his butt off, and has fun doing so, for the greater good.

    PS: I also think Gwen's goal is to get us thinking, instead of mindlessly feeling good about ourselves for one hour and then going back to generally wasteful habits.

  25. Matt Knight says:

    Also I really can spell….people..peopel…stupid me.

  26. gwenbell says:

    Nail on the head, Waylon. "Gwen's goal is to get us thinking, instead of mindlessly feeling good about ourselves for one hour and then going back to generally wasteful habits."

    I read Voluntary Simplicity for the first time while in college and do think that's an excellent guide through this, Alison. Great suggestions.

  27. gwenbell says:

    Interesting. Both were thought-provoking. Thanks for linking it up, 'Chelle. Do you think his argument is valid?

  28. Kristin says:

    you are absolutely right -your editorial did provoke me and I completely take your point. And – to your point – i would imagine, tracking how Earth Hour will ultimately effect change, may be near impossible. we can only hope that it does – on some small level – cultivate that awareness and change in some one or in many. Bravo for wanting to improve the strategy. So we're left with — another question? What does that new global, not simply personal, strategy look like? I'm not arguing, i really am just curious of your thoughts?

  29. Joana Smith says:

    I only mean "trash-talkin'" in the most provocative of ways intellectually! grrrrrrrrrr……;-)

  30. Sage says:

    I am going to drink 3 cans of Dale's Pale Ale in the dark.

  31. gwenbell says:

    Love Dales. Awesome.

  32. gwenbell says:

    I hear you, Joana. LOUD and clear. *smile*

  33. most. comments. on. ever.

  34. emma says:

    couldn't agree more! here in singapore there was an official earth hour event where the organisers gave out disposable plastic glow sticks and serving food in disposable plastic containers – all by candlelight though (and glow sticks)!! completely counter productive…

  35. What about Earth No Flush Hour ?

    No so counter productive. Save water !!

  36. […] colleague, friend, ally, comrade-in-arms (are for hugging). She’s writ a few sharp posts for, one of ‘em (mostly) about social […]

  37. […] scathing post on the concept of Earth […]

  38. Marc of JaxzenSangha says:

    Gwen. If you are attempting to perpetuate a meme that Earth Hour is a bad idea, it's not working. The effects of this symbolic annual gesture all seem to be positive.

  39. Meme Mine says:

    Here are some habits we'd like you doomers to change. How about stopping this silly motivating with the fear of the planet earth dying. That's insane and voter support for this insanity has vanished. CO2 fear mongering is alive and well on the net, the media and labcoat consultants and pandering politicians only, not in the hearts and minds of the voting public. WE the voters have the real consensus and we decide public science policy. If any of you silly doomers out there still believe the voters will still approve persoanal sacrifices and taxes, well then YOU are the new denier.
    STOP SCARING MY KIDS and lead with couage by example, not like climate cowards scaring our children.

  40. Meme Mine says:

    How much more awareness do you need past your constant "SAVE THE PLANET" crap? You all act like doomsdaying cavemen. Preserve, protect and respect nature, not lead us to another WMD war like neocons.
    Yes, pollution is real but get a life and stop the cowardly fear mongering of an impending dead planet.
    The backlash is here doomers. Stop scaring my kids.

  41. CarmenzaPal says:

    Gwenbell, If everything we started we started by criticizing the good intentions behind it, we would never accomplish any change. Please realize that change takes time and as much as it would be wonderful for all those things you mention to have happened already, this is a process. Please don't kill it from the beginning!!!!

  42. […] But last year it went nuts. It inspired lots of fun dinner parties and dark skyscrapers and crazy news coverage and, the true mark of anything huge and popular, some cynicism. […]

  43. I must say that change rarely if ever happens from criticism. Real change, lasting change, comes from a spark of inner awareness. How does one get this spark? LOVE.

    It is only when we feel connected to something, that something belongs to us that we take responsibility for it. The things we don’t take responsibility for we usually complain and blame.

    Someone out there decided to meet a large number of energy consumers where they are at and open their minds to “you can be apart of change for one hour”. Why is this important? Because many people are not connected enough to care at all! Many people wont make a change and wont create new habits and most of those same people wouldn’t even think of doing it if it wasn’t a trendy 1 hr. with a romantic twist of being a do-gooder.

    The people who are open to change and learning more but were not sure about how to have a door open for them and maybe if they feel good about doing this they will also give Earth Day a shot and so on.

    We can not force change. But we can make it look cool and easy! We can also create a sort of follow up way to create real change for those who take this action at heart.

    There is no vibe as powerful as common intention! Lets Be the Change and keep finding new ways to inspire others that they can do it to!

  44. […] romantic candlelit dinner? Reminding co-workers and friends of its onset? Are you going to be okay without… Facebook during Earth […]

  45. […] brother John, for example, is the ultimate environmentalist, but he would never use that term to describe himself – in fact, words are not his strong point. […]