On Saturday, hundreds of millions of people around the world made a bold statement about climate change by doing something they do every day: turning off their lights. Since it began as a relatively small experiment in Sydney, Australia, organized by the World Wildlife Foundation, Earth Hour has evolved into a massive worldwide event in which citizens around the globe turn their attentions to climate change for 60 minutes and demand action from their leaders. Though the concept of Earth Hour may seem strange — after all, how much can turning off the lights in your house for one hour really do for the environment? — those 60 minutes of darkness made a significant impact on our planet.

Last year, Earth Hour produced dramatic and direct results. In Chicago alone, Earth Hour saved 100-megawatt hours of electricity, according to the WWF. This reduction prevented over 150,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. With similar results across the globe, imagine how much energy was saved this year — and how much less carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere.

When national landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House turn off their floodlights and high beams, people notice. And although allowing these landmarks to be dark for an hour saves significant amounts of energy, something more important is accomplished: people are reminded of the gravity of the environmental issues the world faces and become increasingly aware of the potential for saving energy.

Earth Hour began three years ago when the green movement was still on the fringe, struggling for global attention, and climate change was something most people had only heard about in the context of former Vice President Al Gore’s Academy Award winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now, climate change has become a hot button issue in Washington and is one of the sole topics many people — regardless of political affiliation — agree upon. Americans are buying more efficient cars, turning down their thermostats and doing their parts to commit to more sustainable lifestyles. This is the real benefit of Earth Hour. By asking everyone to do something simple yet dramatic, Earth Hour forces the public’s attention to the environment and reminds us to do our part and live in a sustainable way.

As the world turns its attention to the environment for one brief hour, politicians also take notice. Earth Hour provides an accessible outlet for the people to voice their opinions and tell their leaders that climate change requires immediate action. Those who participated Saturday showed that people care about climate change and demand an environmental policy that addresses it. When close to one billion people in over 4,000 cities worldwide make a statement, it is difficult for political leaders to ignore it.

This year, Earth Hour was particularly important in America. As Americans, we can determine whether or not the world will be able to address climate change successfully. Now that Congress has finished its work on health care reform, it is time to act on climate change. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. It is time for the U.S. Senate to take action on the issue as well. Many concerned citizens hope that the next issue the Obama administration will tackle is climate change. The people who participated in Earth Hour sent this message to Washington loud and clear.

It is time for America to become a leader in environmental action for our economy, our security and our planet. We have the technology and the inventive capacity to avert climate catastrophe but are lacking in political will.

America has overcome many major challenges in the past; those who are skeptical of our country’s ability to tackle climate change apparently doubt the strength, innovation and resolve of our nation. Earth Hour allowed Americans to remind Congress that global climate change is the single most important issue facing our world today and that the debate should be how — not whether — to address it. We hope that our senators and representatives have heard our voices.

This viewpoint was written by Megan Spitz, Rachel Slezak, Jace Morgenstein and Tom Witkin on behalf of the environmental issues committee of the University’s chapter of College Democrats.

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