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Simple acts become symbols

As you no doubt know, last week’s Earth Hour took place in several cities around the world, including Vancouver.


As you no doubt know, last week’s Earth Hour took place in several cities around the world, including Vancouver.

The project was spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund, which successfully tested the idea in Sydney, Australia, last year. The idea is simple: Ask everyone to flick off lights and non-essential appliances for one hour.

It was a fascinating experiment. Millions around the world quietly announced, through the symbolic action of turning off lights instead of words, that they think environmental conservation is important.

When we express our values, others take notice and we are energized by not being alone. And pretty soon a lot of inspired individuals start operating as a collective. And once this happens, unusual things occur.

You don’t have to look far to find inspiring examples. The history books — and Wikipedia — are full of them.

Who can forget Rosa Parks, who became an icon of civil rights by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in the segregated U.S. south?

Or Terry Fox, who continues to inspire thousands to take part in the non-competitive run that bears his name each year? All this, even though he didn’t live to complete his own cross-Canada journey.

As single acts, in and of themselves, these actions aren’t all that special. Yet, in a sense, these simple acts became larger symbols, succeeding in shaking up our thoughts about racism and cancer research.

This all brings us back to last week’s Earth Hour.

Yes, after the allotted time lights were turned back on and people resumed their usual Saturday night activity. But regardless of whether it’s considered a success or failure, this was an important experiment. And it’s a symbolic act that all the people and organizations in our social networks should heed.

After all, if millions of urban dwellers care enough about the planet to participate in Earth Hour, so should the businesses we deal with and the governments that represent our interests. We need to let them know and keep reminding them.

Turning off lights for an hour all over the world is a great place to start, but it isn’t where we want to end.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



 
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