No, it’s not another blackout, but you’re sure to notice a different in the skyline if you’re in one of 200+ cities and towns in Canada participating in this year’s Earth Hour. From 8:30 – 9:30 pm this March 23, 2012 communities all around the world will be turning out the lights to raise awareness about climate change — and motivate families and businesses to do something about it.

The event started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 when more than two million homes and businesses turned off unnecessary lights for an hour to make a dramatic statement about saving energy. In 2008, the event went global and more than 50 million people across dozens of countries powering down for the hour. Every year the event gets even bigger, with 128 countries participating in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The idea is to turn off any non-essential lights, appliances and electronics for an hour. Total darkness isn’t part of the plan. Essentials like street lights, traffic lights, night lights and flashlights are allowed and even encouraged, and the organization advises participants to exercise their common sense when it comes to safety. Many cities hold community events, and turn off the power at major landmarks as a statement.

So what can you do without using electricity? We’ve got some ideas:

Go for a walk. Part of the fun of Earth Hour is watching the lights go out. Take a leisurely walk around your neighbourhood, or head to the business areas or downtown core to watch the lights fade. Many people gather at landmarks — whether internationally or locally famous — to watch them disappear into darkness.

If you’re looking for some company, keep an eye out for neighbourhood tours and walks at your local parks and trails. (Hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows are often part of the deal).

Enjoy a candlelit dinner or picnic. Candles set the perfect tone for a cozy evening regardless of the date. However, keep it green by using beeswax candles instead of paraffin (which are made from petroleum products and can release harmful fumes when burned). You’ll also want to avoid chemically-scented candles and any candle with a lead wick — these candles will add to indoor air pollution.

Even preparing the meal can be environmentally-friendly. Use a slow cooker or fondue pot to prepare delicious dishes, opt for no-bake dessert recipes, enjoy raw foods or whip up something that doesn’t need cooking — like a sumptuous salad or stuffed pitas.

And if you don’t feel like cooking, many restaurants are holding their own events using “green” ingredients like locally grown or organic food.

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Elizabeth Rogers