Turn the Lights Back On


Turn the Lights Back On


Every year on April 22, we mark Earth Day, which follows Earth Hour in March when the lights are turned off for 60 minutes to raise global awareness for climate protection.  

The 54th global Earth Day this year is raising awareness of the theme “Planet vs. Plastics.” It calls for a 60% reduction in worldwide plastic production by 2040, following some of the latest research on plastic waste, collated by EarthDay.Org in 2023. Especially children in the Global South are the most impacted by exposure to microplastics, posing a grave health threat.

Earth Day dates back to 1969 when peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to celebrate the planet at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco. The proposal was followed by a proclamation to “Honor the Earth” by the City of San Francisco on March 1, 1970. 

A month later, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970, which was renamed Earth Day and grew to include the entire country. More than 20 million people took to the streets on this first Earth Day, which is still the largest one-day protest in human history. It later went global to more than 193 countries, including one billion people last year. 

In addition, every year Earth Hour is celebrated on a Saturday in late March. Launched in 2007 by WWF Australia, Earth Hour is a worldwide climate and environmental protection campaign that involves switching off public lighting. 

The first action’s goal was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Sydney, Australia, by 5% within a year. At the time, Australia had the world’s highest per-capita CO2 emissions. 

Many Australians were paying closer heed to climate change after a succession of devastating droughts and forest fires. The issue was so significant that it was part of the 2007 general election campaign. 

Turning off the lights at 7:30 pm local time highlighted energy waste from unnecessary lighting and other electricity use. Earth Hour 2007 received attention overseas and evolved into a worldwide event in 2008. 

This year’s Earth Hour was on March 23 from 8:30-9:30 pm local time in every country of the world, when lights were turned off. 

Lights were literally turned back on a month earlier this year, precisely on Feb. 1, 2024, (ironically my birthday) by my all-time favorite artist, Billy Joel. He released his new single “Turn the Lights Back On” after a hiatus of more than 30 years. 

While attending one of his last concerts in New York last year with my son, I wondered if he’d ever release another song—and he did! One verse goes: 

“Pride sticks out its tongue / Laughs at the portrait that we’ve become / Stuck in a frame, unable to change …” 

As these lyrics allude, we need to change things now, not at some time in the future. Sustainability is no longer a future issue but a now issue. Some people just have not heard the chimes at midnight (to reference Star Trek). If we always see sustainability as a future issue, eventually we’ll have no future, at least not one worth living. To put it another way: The future is now—let’s turn the lights back on sustainability! 

Live Long and STAY SuSTAYnable! 

Apu Gosalia is a sustainability expert. He can be reached at

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