My Dilemma with Earth Day and Earth Hour

April 15, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

Of course, I love Earth Day! I am an environmentalist through and through, often to my own chagrin when I deliberate back-and-forth whether to buy an over-packaged item—especially when it is wrapped in plastic or Styrofoam—or asking myself, “do I really need this?” as I ogle something new that I would really like to buy. Naturally, I am on-board with environmental awareness-raising and tangible initiatives, whether they take place on the last Saturday of March for Earth Hour (literally for one hour) or April 22 for Earth Day.

My mental dilemma is this though: Who, that is not a diehard environmentalist, part of a niche green group or a school student participating in a class project, actually does anything of note on either of those days? And even if they or we are, isn’t this just a token gesture, when in truth we cause such a general mess and environmental destruction during the other 364 days of the year? What then is the point of environmental action for a mere 25 hours every year?

Looking at the numbers, the results from Earth Hour and Earth Day are certainly nothing to scoff at. Started in 2007 by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and partners as a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney, Australia, Earth Hour is now—according to their website—“one of the world’s largest grassroots movements for the environment”, engaging millions of people in switching off their lights to show support for our planet. This year, 192 countries and territories participated. Many special videos and messages were released by famous and unfamous individuals to raise awareness of habitat and species loss, pollution and the detrimental effects on human health. Many countries and cities did indeed launch initiatives that went beyond lip service and kicked off projects to educate on and reduce pollution on land or sea, raise funds for environmental protection and digital campaigns to track long-term engagement.  

Earth Day sparks similar activities, with close to 700 events being registered last year on the official website. Events spanned climate action, restoration and conservation efforts and included many community cleanup days to remove garbage from cities, beaches and river sides, information sessions, art or food inspired events and more.

True enough, seeing huge, iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Sydney’s Opera House, Niagara Falls and Toronto’s CN tower and downtown skyline switching off their lights at exactly 8:30 p.m. local time makes for an exciting countdown, some goosebumps and collective sighs and applause. Maybe some other fun things happen when electric lights are out, but it is mostly a symbolic gesture. Sure, turning off a massive number of nonessential lights for one or two hours saves energy, though why do many thousands of office towers around the world and here in Canada even HAVE the lights on all night on most floors, even after the cleaning crews have left? And while all the one-day cleanup days and other activism on Earth Day are fabulous, and I participate in them most years, I still wonder how most of our population acts the next day and weeks and months after that.

Here in Orangeville, I heard exactly one mention of Earth Hour on our local radio station on the day of the occasion. That was it. Not much conversation around it on our local station, no posters around town that I saw (even in non-Covid years) nor posts on social media that should have reminded me at least one week before that I was supposed to turn off all my lights and sit with candles for an hour. While I love sitting by candlelight anytime, I think you get my drift. I just didn’t hear or see much at all about the event. I wish this meant that everyone else around me has also got a little tired of the once-a-year Earth Day and Earth Hour events and reminders and does their good green duties without prompting.

On April 22, please do participate in community cleanups or other initiatives—just please continue taking measures every day after that too to reduce your and your family’s impact on the environment and natural resources.

What I believe in over and above one day’s actions is that environmental action needs to take place by the masses and every single day. It must become part of a more mindful lifestyle.

Instead of every household having two or three vehicles sitting in the driveway, with thousands of kilometres being driven with only a single occupant, I would like to see more encouragement and uptake of a more measured use of vehicles by offering significantly more public transit and incentivising use with affordable ticket prices and more frequent service. Instead of all the crappy single use plastic packaging that is produced and thrown out en masse every day, I want to see governments and industries taking the lead in producing only the minimum amount of packaging required and making it truly recyclable or reusable.

I would like to see far more recycling and recycled goods that people will actually buy, large and small household items that can be repaired affordably, and a smarter and wider use of all the plastic stuff and rubber car and truck tires that still go to waste and into landfills, by turning them into new products instead. That is what I hope for. Happy Earth Year.

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