Earth Day vs. Earth Hour vs. Despair

Friday, April 20, 2012


I get a lot of people asking about both Earth Day and Earth Hour. There is a consensus.... Earth Day is better than Earth Hour. The problem is I just don't believe it.

Earth Day is a great day. It was started in 1970 and was famously chosen to be on April 22nd, which was incidentally the birthday of the lead ad agency guy. It was immense and did lead to some very important environmental reforms in the United States and subsequently Canada. It is widely celebrated but recently it has not reached the popularity it enjoyed in the early 70's.

Earth Hour is a one hour celebration that asks people from around the world to turn off their lights for one hour as a symbolic gesture demonstrating that we can all play a role in helping the Earth. The problem with Earth Hour is that the event is so small that people tend to diminish the importance of the event. "Oh yeah.... one hour eh? How the hell is that going to help the planet?"

So which one is better? Neither, they are both good.

Earth Day generally lacks focus. In the beginning Earth Day celebrations tended to mimic large protests. People were mad as hell and they took to the streets demanding governmental reform on the environmental portfolio. This spawned the EPA, the Clean Air Act, and countless environmental initiatives. Today's Earth Day celebrations focus more on celebrating our spiritual connection to the planet.

Earth Hour lacks poignancy. Many people find the whole thing to be lacklustre because the impact is so minimal. It also begs the question, why don't we just do Earth Hour every month, week, or night? The message behind Earth Hour is also a little confusing. Do I turn off my lights or do I turn off my everything?

Pretty glum eh? Well maybe I can help you look at this in a different way.

Earth Day. There is nothing wrong with celebrating our connection to the planet. Sure we cannot forget that the movement isn't finished yet but we also mustn't forget to take time to be happy and have fun. Earth Day has given us cleaner air, better water, more efficient cars, and a better understanding of this crazy biosphere we call home.

Earth Hour. Maybe one hour is enough. Many people won't get involved if it is too hard or too much work. And sure we need more than just symbolic actions, but maybe it is more important to inspire people to action rather than try to scare them into action. Maybe making conservation mainstream will encourage more kilowatts saved than carbon trading?


Either way, I don't think we should be comparing one event to another. Earth Day gives us time to celebrate the planet and Earth Hour gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that we can stand united. The true enemy is despair. Stop saying it can't be done, stop saying that people don't care, stop waiting for something to happen and make something happen. If you want to help the planet. turn off a light. If you want to see change, write a letter to a public official. And if you want to know which one is better, the answer is both.

~jon, campus sustainability manager
photo credit - kira lamont

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