Earth Hour 2010 aims to get 1 billion to turn off the lights

For this year's Earth Hour, set for 8:30 p.m. Saturday, more businesses and governments are expected to take part in the campaign to turn off the lights. The aim: at least 1 billion participants.

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    A man holds a candle during last year's Earth Hour event in Guatemala City.
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The Earth Hour concept is simple: Turn off the lights for an hour to acknowledge climate change and advocate sustainability.

Organizers hope this year for record individual participation, but they’re also banking on major support from governments, companies, and other organizations.

Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. This Saturday, Earth Hour organizers anticipate that more than 1 billion people in at least 125 countries will take part by turning off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time. If this happens, organizers say, Earth Hour 2010 will be the largest concerted statement about climate change in history.

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“Earth Hour is meant to unite the world,” says Dan Forman, manager of media relations for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which sponsors Earth Hour. “A lot of people find the issue of climate change a priority, and on Saturday we’re going to make that statement to the world.”

Government and corporate participation in Earth Hour are an important part of the WWF’s strategy, says Mr. Forman, in a phone interview. “I hope political and business leaders recognize the overwhelming support from their constituents and customers in making the switch to a healthier, more sustainable, and secure planet,” he says.

Earth Hour organizers suggest candlelight dinners, bonfires, or stargazing during the hour of darkness.

Earth Hour has drawn criticism in the past. Last year, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously turned on his lights in protest.

And there are those who say a different kind of action is needed. “Environmental challenges will not be solved by turning off our lights and symbolically hiding in the dark," says Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "We should be looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems.” A Monitor blogger, moreover, last year asked whether burning candles was counterproductive to Earth Hour's aim.

Such criticism misunderstands Earth Hour, says Forman. “Waste reduction is one of those old-fashioned values that we learned from our parents and grandparents. It’s intrinsic to our core American values. Who can argue with that?”

Popular US landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Las Vegas Strip, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Seattle Space Needle, the St. Louis Arch went dark for last year's Earth Hour. So did the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Big Ben in London, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

This year they’ll have more company. Hundreds of monuments, major buildings, and public areas will join in across the United States, including Mount Rushmore and Niagara Falls. In China, the Forbidden City will go dark as well. So will United Nations buildings around the world. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has hailed Earth Hour as “both a warning and a beacon of hope."

All 50 US states have pledged to participate in Earth Hour. In 32 of them, the capitol or the governor’s mansion will go dark. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley encouraged Marylanders to participate in Earth Hour and, afterward, visit the state’s website on sustainability. “Maryland is an official Earth Hour state, and Katie and I will be turning off our own lights in support of this global movement,” he said of he and his wife.

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