Shutting off a few lights, computers and electrical appliances for Earth Hour on Saturday evening will make many people feel environmentally virtuous, but let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not going to save the planet. It’s not even going to save much power. During last year’s Earth Hour, Ontario’s electricity demand fell by about five per cent or 900 megawatts, enough to run a city the size of Hamilton for one hour.

The fact is, Earth Hour is no great sacrifice. If it was a summer event, at least we might have to shut off the air conditioner and risk breaking into a sweat. If it was the dead of winter, we might have to don an extra layer of clothing. But this is March, the weather is relatively benign and there’s plenty of cheap, green electricity being generated by the spring runoff through power dams.

This isn’t to say Earth Hour should be ignored. It’s a chance to fire up the barbecue for the first time this year, to eat by candle light and to find out exactly how many household gadgets there are to be unplugged. But how about using the hour to commit to some really meaningful ways to go green?

A friend who spends a lot of time thinking about these things pointed out recently that the simple act of planting two trees can make a big difference in terms of energy savings for homeowners.

Earth Hour is about reducing the greenhouse gases and other emissions associated with electricity generation. Driving less will also help cut those emissions. Vow to take public transit more often. Or start a walking school bus. This involves one or more adults walking to school with the neighbourhood children.

So go ahead, play the Earth Hour game. Then do something that will really make a difference.

– April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she specializes in local news and urban affairs reporting;