Did you turn your lights out for Earth Hour between 8-9 PM Saturday night? (I did.) Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Google’s Earth Hour Page

If you don’t listen to Canadian radio stations and weren’t curious about why Google reversed their usual bright white background, chances are you missed this initiative, which is a shame because it’s a good one.

If you live in Buffalo and were clueless about Earth Hour it’s necessarily your fault, though on some level each of us must ultimately accept responsibility for our actions even when the cards are stacked against us. And, boy-oh-boy, in the United States we are really behind the ball when it comes to taking a hard look at our impact on the environment. We represent a small percent of the world’s population, but use a large percent of its resources. Of course this says an awful lot about just how privileged we are to live in this land of plenty, but they also says an awful lot about how wasteful we are as a country.

For the most part, household energy use doesn’t make that much of a dent in our energy consumption (businesses and municipalities account for much more as reported here in the Toronto Star) as a whole, but turning off the lights for an hour raises awareness about the impact that each of have on our environment. And that’s why it’s a shame if Earth Hour came and went and didn’t make any dent in your activities because if any country stands to have a positive effect upon our environment, it’s us, the Pigpen of our planet.

I’ve been giving my environmental footprint a lot of thought lately because when I started teaching I made a conscious decision to let go of some of the good habits I developed growing up in the very green community of Ithaca, NY. I rationalized my decision by telling myself that it was a matter of survival. As a first-year teacher I faced 80-hour work-weeks, unpredictable classroom behavior, pre-tenure observations, new teacher meeting requirements, extra-curricular obligations, and the necessity of completing a graduate degree. The result? I decided that I probably wouldn’t have time to wash my plastic bags for a little while. (I also let my exercise and cooking habits slide, but that’s another story.) And given all that, maybe that decision was justified, but it’s been almost four years since that date and I’m still entrenched in my bad habits.

So, today I’m starting fresh. And right there is what is so cool about Earth Hour and why it must be expanded beyond a handful of target cities. (To read more about the iniative, check our the World Wildlife Federation page here.) My one hour of hanging out in candlelight gave me time to think about just how environmentally unfriendly my own habits had become–from not reusing plastic bags, to not purchasing environmentally friendly cleaning products, to eating too much takeout (the plastic containers are not currently recyclable and styrofoam is such an environmental disaster it ought to be banned outright)–and reminded me that it wouldn’t take much effort on my part to do better. Just like turning out the lights.

Here’s my plan: invest in reusable grocery bags, switch from plastic to cellulose bags for food and trash, switch my household cleaning products to ones that are environmentally friendly, all of which and more can be easily found online and in the organic section of most grocery stores. I’ll also gradually migrate from incandescent to flourescent bulbs, and figure out what adapter I need to hook my laptop to our TV and switch from renting videos at Blockbuster to Netflix’s on-demand program in order to cut down on my husband’s extraneous trips to the video store. I will continue to compost kitchen scraps, buy small cars and avoid using pesticides. (I also conserve energy by setting my thermostat at 65 and turning off the heat completely when I’m not home and at night. All of my major appliances have high Energy Star ratings too.)

What are you going to do?