Photograph by Imaginechina, AP
Published March 26, 2010
For Earth Hour 2010, record-breaking millions of businesses, homes, and landmarks around the world will turn off their lights Saturday evening for the sake of the planet, conservationists say.
Now in its fourth year, Earth Hour—which takes place from 8:30 to 9:30 local time on March 27—will be bigger than ever this year, said Leslie Aun, a spokesperson for the conservation nonprofit WWF, which organizes the annual event. (See before-and-after Earth Hour pictures from past years.)
"We're off to a terrific start," Aun said.
Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 with about two million participants. The voluntary one-hour blackout has since grown into an international event involving hundreds of millions of people as a show of support for action against global warming.
Earth Hour's energy-saving impact is limited, however: It does very little to reduce the greenhouse emissions that contribute to global warming. But WWF maintains that Earth Hour's real value is symbolic.
New Landmarks to Go Dark for Earth Hour 2010
Thousands of cities in a record 121 countries—34 more than in 2009—are set to officially participate in Earth Hour 2010. (Related: "Earth Hour 2009: A Billion to Go Dark Saturday?")
In the U.S., 27 states have signed on for official participation in Earth Hour 2010, nearly four times more than were on board last year.
"We've had three states join up in the last 24 hours," Aun said. "We're telling people there's still plenty of time. We'll take them until the end."
The celebrity endorsements of Earth Hour that began last year will also continue for Earth Hour 2010. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady; his wife, model Gisele Bündchen; actor Edward Norton; and others have recorded public service announcements for television to help raise awareness of the event.
Landmarks to go dark for Earth Hour for the first time in 2010 include South Dakota's Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls at the U.S.-Canada border, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Great Pyramids in Egypt, Table Mountain in South Africa, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan.
Family Focus for Earth Hour 2010
While cities and famous landmarks get the most attention, families and individuals are responsible for much of Earth Hour's momentum, Aun said. In a WWF survey conducted after Earth Hour 2009, 80 million U.S. citizens said they had participated, according to Aun.
"Cities and businesses are the ones you're always hearing about, because they have the skyscrapers and the big marquees. But Earth Hour has always been an event about families and individuals as well," Aun said.
"It's really about Americans and people all over the world standing up and saying climate change is real and we need to do something about it now."
Families are certainly the focus at the Ontario Science Centre in Canada, which is hosting its third-annual Earth Hour event this Saturday.
"It's mostly families that attend. We have something for every age," said Karen Hager, the associate director of events and public programs at the center.
Visitors to the Science Center during Earth Hour 2010 will be able to stargaze through high-powered telescopes, hear live music, and learn how to reduce the causes of climate change. (Related blog: "This Earth Hour, Don't Forget to Look Up.")
Hager added she's seen interest in Earth Hour steadily grow over the years. "Last year, we had just over 2,600, and we're anticipating this year to be even bigger."
Earth Hour 2010 Sending the Wrong Message?
Some people claim that Earth Hour is sending the wrong message. A student club at the University of Michigan called the Students of Objectivism is staging Edison Hour—named after inventor Thomas Edison—at the same time and day as Earth Hour.
Instead of turning lights off, Edison Hour encourages people to turn all their lights on as a way to "celebrate all the things that technology has brought us," said Victoria Miller, a junior at the university and club vice president.
"We have a problem with Earth Hour, because it suggests that the proper route to progress for humanity is shutting down and moving backward toward the Middle Ages," Miller said.
Miller's group argues that technology — especially "green" technologies such as wind and solar power and electric car engines—are the best tools for reducing the effects of global warming.
"If you accept that humanity is having a catastrophic impact on the environment, then the way to solve it is through the continued use of technology," Miller said. "The point of environmentalism should be to do things more efficiently, not stop doing things."
The group has set up a Facebook page for people interested in Edison Hour. Miller estimates that about a thousand people will participate in the event this year.
Like Earth Hour, Edison Hour is also meant to be "purely symbolic," Miller said, and it will have little negative environmental impact by itself.
Feed the World
How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.
Latest From Nat Geo
These cooing Casanovas use showstopping plumage to court females and fend off rivals.
Meet a trapper who keeps Florida's streets, sewers, and Kennedy Space Center alligator free.