A cheer could be heard across Parliament Hill on Saturday night as the clock on the Peace Tower faded into darkness, allowing a sea of flickering candles held by over 400 Canadians to pierce though the cold night sky.
The individuals who stood in the cold to hold candles were participating in an Earth Hour vigil organized by the Green Party of Canada. This vigil was just a small part of a much larger global campaign that asked everyone to turn off their lights for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Earth Hour was started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia by the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness and encourage action on climate change.
Earth Hour has been criticized for being a symbolic gesture that fails to lead to actual climate change.
However, organizer Kevin O’Donnell said that the symbolic nature of Earth Hour is not only powerful in that it raises awareness about climate change, but also because it makes individuals feel as if their combined efforts to conserve energy are worthwhile.
“One person can just do what they can, but when you do it as a part of a group it doesn’t feel worthless anymore,” O’Donnell said. “It feels like you are a part of change and that motivates you to keep trying.”
Paul Maillet, Green Party candidate for the Ottawa-Orleans riding, also stressed Earth Hour’s symbolic significance as a reminder of the need to combat climate change.
“It’s like in the Islamic faith where you have Ramadan and what you’re doing is just getting in touch with the suffering in the world and the bottom billion that don’t have things to eat every day,” said Maillet. “So in that sort of context it reminds us of the planet and gets us in touch for an hour or so.”
O’Donnell said the turnout for the vigil this year was much bigger than the last.
“We estimated over 450 people came. That’s just about double from last year so that’s promising,” said O’Donnell.
Katie Chung, Sam Wilson and Annie Jones were some of the members in that crowd.
“Everyone takes one hour and it might kind of motivate them or at least inform people that just by turning off say one more light in your house, or like turning down the thermostat it just makes that much of a difference,” said Wilson.
The three Carleton University students are getting a house together next year and said they are planning to implement environmentally conscious practices in their new home, such as unplugging unused electronic devices, not using the air conditioner and turning off lights that are not in use.
O’Donnell used one of his favourite sayings, “common sense is just sense made common,” to describe the way in which Earth Hour can make a difference.
“Change takes time, and Earth Hour serves as a purpose of raising the awareness of the need for all of us as individuals to change our behaviours,” said O’Donnell.
“And by having over a billion people all participate across the globe, it is fantastic. It is phenomenal that you can get a billion people to take part in something.”