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Lights on or off? Earth Hour challenged by Human Achievement Hour

Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images

Seen here before and during Earth Hour last year, the Patronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are among the hundreds of buildings around the world that go lights out for the annual event.

Earth Hour, the annual event that turns off lights as a statement for cleaner energy, marks its fifth year this Saturday. But a free-market think tank is trying to get some traction with its alternative: the Human Achievement Hour, when people are encouraged to leave lights on to show their appreciation for inventions "and the recognition that future solutions require individual freedom not government coercion."

In one corner is the conservation group WWF, which helped start Earth Hour in 2007 and expects that landmarks that will participate this year will include the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

In the other corner is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which isn't expecting to match Earth Hour's reach but aims to make a point when they battle from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. this Saturday in time zones around the globe.

"Gather with friends in the warmth of a heated home, watch television, take a hot shower, drink a beer, call a loved one on the phone, or listen to music," the institute says on its website.

"If you’re going to vote you need at least two choices," says Michelle Minton, the Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow who came up with HAH in 2009. "While I believe that a lot of people celebrating Earth Hour truly just want a clean and healthy environment for themselves and their families -- a completely reasonable opinion, which I share -- I felt their support was being used by the environmentalist movement to spread a message that is much less positive."

"Many environmentalists see humans as fundamentally destructive and want to force individuals to conserve," she adds. "Earth Hour is an attempt to convince lawmakers that the majority of the population wants them to clamp down on progress." 

As for the numbers, Minton figures "between 1,000-2,000 people knowingly celebrate Human Achievement Hour." The HAH Facebook page had nearly 200 people signed up as of Thursday afternoon.

About 60 people watched an in-house party during the hour last year, Minton says, and the event will be live streamed again this year. 

Earth Hour, for its part, says it has commitments in 135 countries -- and one International Space Station.

"Earth Hour will extend to the International Space Station for the first time," the organizers said in a statement. "Astronaut and WWF ambassador Andre Kuipers will experience Earth Hour watching over the planet for the the European Space Agency."

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