If more than 1 billion people turned off their lights for one hour, one-seventh of the world would go dark.
That’s what the organizers of the eighth annual Earth Hour are hoping to accomplish this year as a way to raise awareness about climate change and ravenous energy consumption.
Participants across seven continents will turn off their nonessential lights on March 29 from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time. Monuments, buildings, and dwellings around the world—including the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House, the pyramids of Egypt, and the Eiffel Tower—will be plunged into darkness.
Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, when the World Wildlife Fund organized 2.2 million people—or 57 percent of the city—to dim their lights to signify their concern for the planet. Since then, the event has grown astronomically. Earth Hour 2013 drew participants from 7,000 cities and more than 150 countries.
“Even war-torn parts of the world are participating, and areas only recently out of civil war like Sri Lanka,” Earth Hour CEO Andy Ridley wrote in The Huffington Post. “This tells me that people everywhere care about the planet.”
Despite widespread participation, Earth Hour has received its share of criticism from those who argue the event may unnecessarily condemn electricity use and give people the wrong impression about how to combat climate change.
But WWF maintains that Earth Hour exists to demonstrate that there is massive, worldwide support for environmental protection—not to save on electricity for one hour alone.
“It is a symbolic event,” said Keya Chatterjee, senior director of renewable energy and footprint outreach at WWF. “There is so much rhetoric out there about countries saying, ‘Why should we act on climate change if no one else is acting?’ The beauty of Earth Hour is that you see massive participation from China and India. You see iconic structures from around the world participating.”
This year, WWF is encouraging people to take action beyond the hour. The organization is expanding its “I Will If You Will” challenge, in which activists sign up to complete certain actions if they can rally enough people to switch to eco-friendly behavior.
“It’s a rare moment of global unity around environmental issues, which are inherently global,” Chatterjee said. “We are asking people to really think about renewable energy and solar. To think about powering those lights—when we turn them back on can we commit renewable sources?”