Does Earth Hour Work? (Earth Hour Photos from Sydney)

For those who say that collective action to reduce energy consumption is meaningless, I have two photos:

Before and During Earth Hour (Ryan McCarthy)

The focus of Earth Hour is on turning off your lights for one hour. It is a largely symbolic gesture: lighting is just one part of the problem and it's only one hour. Despite this, I think it is a great way to focus attention on our current wasteful use of energy.

The story behind Earth Hour

The idea behind Earth Hour began in 2004. Environmental group WWF Australia was looking for a way to engage the wider community on the topic of climate change. They enlisted the help of advertising agency Leo Burnett for a project which had the working title 'The Big Flick'.

In March 2007 the very first Earth Hour became reality in Sydney, Australia. On that night a good portion of the city's 4 million residents turned off their lights for one hour. One year later, Earth Hour became a global movement involving participants in about 35 countries.

Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

And it has only grown from there, getting bigger every year.

The story behind the photos

Back in 2007 I was in Sydney watching the very first Earth Hour. I had my camera ready.

In fact, I was ready with my camera three days early. I knew that most building managers would have already shut down most lighting prior to Earth Hour on the actual day. (Who would want their building left on!?). So I went down to a view point on Sydney Harbour and took some photos of the city at 8pm on a normal weeknight.

I returned to the same spot during Earth Hour and took the second photo. I used the same settings on my camera for both photos. This ensured that the photos don’t exaggerate or mis-represent what was actually achieved. Unlike other photos published that year (and ever since), mine are a more realistic representation of the 'before and after' effect.

On the other hand, photographers sitting around on the evening of Earth Hour taking ‘real time’ photos didn’t get to see the full effect at all.

The photos were originally picked up by WWF off my friend Adam Searle’s blog. I was happy to release them to promote the cause. I was excited to see the photos printed in a large spread in the Sydney Morning Herald supplement in 2008. I was disappointed, however, to see them incorrectly credited not to me, but to some agency.

In 2009 and again 2010 my photos also featured in the official Earth Hour videos. You can see them here in the opening credits:

- Ryan McCarthy

By Ryan McCarthy |

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