Tonight, March 28, 2009, as you observe Earth Hour (8:30-9:30 p.m), I urge you to turn your thoughts towards Haiti, where every hour is Earth Hour.
This simple truth was brought home to me today, when at the end of her visit, one of my visiting caregivers said, very seriously, that she hoped I was going to observe Earth Hour tonight. She went on to say she understood what a sacrifice it was to go without television and lights for an hour, but that Earth Hour was an important event.
And so I explained to her the reality of life in Haiti: Most hours of nearly every day are Earth Hour. For those who live in absolute poverty on this planet, including the majority of Haitians, to have an hour of television and electricity would be a memorable occasion, talked about by all.
Those of you who are long time followers of our Starthrower blog and web site know how many times we have been without power in Haiti for weeks at a time. And it's not just in Haiti, nor just electricity: Spend any time at all in Central America, the Caribbean or countries such as Ethiopia, and you will know that having electricity and all that comes with it -- air conditioning, cooking facilities, fans, lights, hair dryers, curling irons, irons, microwaves, bank machines, gas pump, fridges, freezers, garage doors, elevators, medical equipment -- is a luxury enjoyed by the lucky ones on this planet.
When much of northeastern North America experienced a blackout in August 2003, we were all thrown for a loop. That the power came back on with a day is a testament to our First World conditions. As we congratulated ourselves on weathering this power crisis, a local contractor said, "This wasn't so bad. In Croatia, one time we had no power for 8 months."
And it is not just electricity that we squander. We do the same with potable water. How many tens of thousands of gallons of drinking water fill how many thousands and thousands of swimming pools? How many thousands and thousands of liters of potable water do we sprinkle on our lawns and gardens?
Even in Australia, a First World country by any standards, the water shortage is in crisis mode in much of the country. Bath tubs are rarely used; a fast shower -- no more than a minute and preferably with other family members at the same time, with grey water collected for use on the garden -- is not uncommon. [See National Geographic Australian Drought]
Most of us sleep snug in our beds at night, the idea of malaria from mosquitoes never entering our minds. No cockroaches, no tarantulas, no mice scurrying about to disturb us or render us ill. And that is the way it could be, should be, for all God's children.
So tonight I will light a few candles, perch a flashlight on my shoulder and read for an hour without power, flooded by my memories of Haiti: The tent of mosquito netting over my bed; the sounds of barking dogs and voodoo drum outside the compound; the roosters crowing at 4 a.m.; the kids coming to the house, looking for water, for help with school, for medicines, for comfort.
I know that many of you will participate in Earth Hour, for Starthrowers care about the world around them. I also know that Earth Hour is a gesture to raise awareness of our global connections and universal conditions. We are the lucky ones, who can still go to our fridges for food, use our indoor toilets and wash or bathe in the hot and cold running water always at the ready for us. And one hour set aside to ponder our good fortune is not a difficult task.
Even knowing that Earth Hour is but a gesture, we must start somewhere and it's as good a time as any, if we truly believe that change is necessary for the health of the planet. So when you turn out the lights tonight, please take a little time in solidarity with all those who live without. Tonight you have the option of participating or not. They have no option, and often no candles and no flashlights.
And when you turn your lights on at 9:30 p.m., pause for a moment of gratitude for the abundance in our lives. Earth Hour offers such opportunity for solidarity and gratitude and it is relatively painless..
Thanks to all who will take the opportunity.