Earth Hour 2021: Turn off your lights, use COVID lessons to heal planet

A darkened monument in St. Petersburg, Russia, during Earth Hour 2021.

A darkened monument in St. Petersburg, Russia, during Earth Hour.

Valentin Yegorshin/Getty Images

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, lockdowns kicked in, freeways emptied, airports went quiet, and the incessant tromping of human beings ceased. The Earth noticed. Among other things, carbon emissions dropped, air quality improved, and, in Venice’s no-longer-so-murky canals, jellyfish could be seen gliding along.

More than one person wondered whether the sudden shift might lead humanity to rethink how it lives on the planet. Bill Gates, for one, said that “if we learn the lessons of COVID-19, we can approach climate change more informed about the consequences of inaction.”

The World Wildlife Fund has zeroed in on that idea as part of its annual Earth Hour observance, in which it asks people to shut off their lights for an hour in the evening to draw attention to the climate crisis and other environmental issues.

Read more: COVID-19 gave the planet a break. Now’s the time to keep up the momentum

Earth Hour 2021’s non-light-show happened March 27 from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time, and this year also boasted a component that could stretch well beyond the hour. The first-ever Earth Hour Virtual Spotlight urged people to get busy “taking over the social media feeds of millions around the world and putting the spotlight on our planet, the issues we face, and our place within it all.”

And so people did overnight, sharing social media posts of darkened cityscapes, moonlit landscapes and rooms lit only by candles.

The World Wildlife Fund in the UK also offered up some ideas of how we can use this #EarthHour moment as a first step toward greater planetary awareness.

Thank you to everyone who took part in #EarthHour this year. You, along with millions around the world came together for our planet. 🌍

It doesn’t stop there. Here are some ideas of what you can do next. 👇

— WWF UK 🌏 (@wwf_uk) March 28, 2021

Participants are meant to do that by sharing a video in which the Earth Hour crew uses the pandemic as a springboard into a discussion of conservation and sustainability. Human encroachment on animal habitats is “forcing wildlife into closer contact with each other, our livestock and people,” the video says, “and all this makes it easier for diseases to spread between animals and to us.” And “the risk of future pandemics will only increase unless we fix our broken relationship with nature.”

The pandemic, though, “has shown us that we have it within us to make a change,” the video adds, pointing to things like working from home. “We’ve seen that we can adapt to new ways of working. Let’s now explore new ways of living that put people and planet first.”

You can check out the video below, you can read more about the Earth Hour Virtual Spotlight on the Earth Hour website, and if 8:30 p.m. on March 27 hasn’t yet come and gone in your neck of the woods, you can join the Earth Hour observance by switching off your lights for 60 minutes.

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