Why you should care

Because when it comes to reducing our impact on the environment, Nyepi has Earth Day beat.

The world has gone dark, motionless. People aren’t allowed to leave their homes, turn on the lights, use a computer, light a flame or participate in any entertainment or work, and if they must speak, it should be done at the quietest level. This postapocalyptic-sounding martial law actually exists one day of the year in Bali, Indonesia, during Nyepi, a Hindu celebration for the Saka New Year.

Bali, with its more than 4 million residents of varying faiths and large tourist population, is the only place in the world that celebrates this Day of Silence. The motorbikes aren’t running, every business shutters its doors, television stations stop broadcasting and even the airport closes. It’s a day when nature and humanity recharge, while expelling bad spirits. You may be celebrating Earth Day, but what we ought to consider celebrating across our planet — and for the planet — is Nyepi.

If every country celebrated Nyepi, a worldwide statement would be made …

Sequestering people in their homes and limiting their free will may seem ludicrous to an outsider, but it could help save the planet. During the 24-hour period of Nyepi in 2013, Bali’s carbon dioxide output was reduced by an average of almost 37 percent across the island, nitrous oxide by 32.6 percent in the capital city of Denpasar and, with approximately 2.35 million vehicles not operating, CO2 was lessened by 30,000 tons, according to Indonesia’s BMKG Emission Reduction Analysis report. In 2014, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the second-biggest contributor to global warming, totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The highest amounts came from electricity generation, transportation and industry. Considering Nyepi restricts all three, in one day emissions of the largest contributors to climate change would be offset. If every country celebrated Nyepi, a worldwide statement would be made that combating climate change is a priority. “Taking an hour, or a day, to unplug is a good way to be more mindful that our personal actions have impacts on the world,” says Amy Morsch, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

The World Wildlife Fund’s grassroots movement Earth Hour has been organizing a one-hour lights-out event per year since 2007. In March 2017, 187 countries and territories participated, proving that the willingness exists to go dark, and growing it into a 24-hour event may not be an impossible task. Research by Sarah J. Olexsak of Johns Hopkins University and Alan Meier at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that in 10 of the countries involved over a six-year period, electricity consumption was reduced an average of 4 percent.

That’s a start, but more needs to be done, and even Nyepi isn’t enough: “We’ll need to do more to achieve our emissions-cutting and sustainability goals,” Morsch points out. “For sustainable change, climate solutions will have to be easy for individuals to integrate into their daily lives.”

Moving forward with Nyepi could take us one step closer to sustainable change. Learning by doing is good policy, and Nyepi can teach us just how easy it is to conserve energy and adjust habits. If the Balinese can do it, so can the rest of us. And they, being a tolerant people, won’t mind if we take their Day of Silence religious celebration and make it global — it’s “obviously a good thing for all developed countries,” restaurateur Breon Jan, who has lived in Bali since 1998, tells OZY. So let’s take a much-needed break with Nyepi, and show Mother Nature some love.