Last year, Earth Hour was an understand event as far as I remember, due to the fact that I had a stinking cold and a mind filled with equations and ocean current charts, but like many millions of people around the world I took part. At 8:30 pm GMT, on 27th March 2010, I closed the textbooks, shut down the computer, switched off the lights, wrapped up warm and stepped out into the cool evening air. In my ill state that may for not have been the best idea in the world, but I wanted to watch the lights from across the river. At the bottom of the garden beside a willow tree and two tall poplars is a simple wooden bench looking out across the marshland fields and the river Yare beyond. On the opposite bank lies the small town of Reedham, with its lights stretching out before me, each twinkling and dancing slightly as I sat down. To the right lies Lowestoft, not visible directly, but recognisable with it’s familiar dull orange glow on the horizon, an ugly smear on the horizan. So there I sat, watching, with only a light breeze and the rustling leaves for company, waiting for 8.30pm to strike.
I watched with satisfaction as houses began to go black, the horizon darkening. Some stubbornly remained on, but it was honestly more than I was expecting. Perhaps they forgot, perhaps they hadn’t heard, or perhaps they simply didn’t care, although I sincerely hoped that wasn’t the case. I looked over toward Lowestoft and although I was not 100% sure, I thought that the neon glow had faded somewhat, but it may have just been my imagination. Either way, the sky was clearer than I had ever seen it, and so I turned my attention to the heavens, and gazed up at the starry blackness above. This was why I was here, to look up at the shimmering darkness and reflect. No big events, nothing particularly note worth, simply to pause, think and reflect. No more, no less.
So why do this? Why switch off the lights and take part in this movement when so many others will not? I suppose it really comes down to the reason I started my journey as a young scientist in the first place. It’s very easy to be swept up the sceptical cynicism when it comes to the state of our world. Looking at the news is usually a depressing experience, with stories of war, suffering and environmental decay, and that’s only the stuff we hear about. Dig a little deeper and it’s a wonder any of us bother at all, so the fact that so many people choose to ignore things, or dismiss these problems is hardly surprising. In some cases, it’s simply a form of escapism. Nothing we can do so let’s just bury our heads in the sand.
It’s for that reason that I believe that events like Earth Hour can be so powerful. Seeing all of those lights go off, especially in a large city, has an immediate, visual impact, one that is impossible to ignore. It shows that you are not alone in this fight, that there are others around you that care about the state of our planet, whether it be from the perspective of climate change or simply that they don’t want to see the green spaces, that are becoming so rare is some areas, disappear because of our steady and relentless expansion. I have met people with a range of different perspectives, views and ideologies, that were deeply moved by previous Earth Hour’s, which is why I want to support it. There aren’t many movements that affect such a wide scope of people, and as its influence spreads that effect is growing with it.
The reason I decided to become a scientist is because of the desire to protect our nature surroundings and to gain a better understanding of them, not because I think that I personally will revolutionise the field and come up with the next big idea, but because I want to conserve what we have, what we are losing. It isn’t a grand aim, just one that I feel very strongly about. A friend once told me of an old Native American proverb which I believe sums this view up nicely.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
It is a simple things, perhaps to idealistic for some, but I hope that it will, in one way or another make a difference, even if it simply makes people pause and think for a moment about the world that they inhabit but so rarely give an thought too.
As for me, like last year, at 8:30pm tonight, I will open the doors of a darkened house, step into the garden and watch the lights from across the river and hope that this year all of them will go out.