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“Earth Hour”—When The Lights Go Off Again

March 27th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

“Oh, golly, we’re seven minutes late! Quick, turn off the lights!” And so we began running around the house, shutting off lights.

It was Earth Hour! And here we were—late! EarthHourLogo

One day last March, I’d read about Earth Hour, just a small notice in the newspaper. On a whim, I decided my husband and I should join in this symbolic gesture for saving the Earth from global warming. Now that the moment was here (or indeed had already been here for seven minutes) we felt singularly unprepared.

It was easy enough to hit “off” on the light switches. But if we were going to be serious about it, should we be shutting off appliances with their little red winking lights? The coffee maker, for example…or the microwave…or our computers? We decided that was carrying the symbology too far, and settled for simply becoming an unlit house.

Then what? We sort of felt our way along to the davenport, sat down, and let our eyes become accustomed to looking at—blackness! The fireplace was a few feet away, but totally invisible. We were side by side, but could tell it only by our voices.

If we had been prepared…if we had thought this thing through…we’d have scrounged up our emergency flashlights to have at hand, lest we trip over furniture. And we’d have put a couple of candles on our coffee table. And some matches. And some wine. Then we at least could have created a romantic ambience while we did our part to save the Earth.

It was eerie, sitting there together with nothing to do. An unaccustomed quiet softly surrounded us like a fog resting on our shoulders. As we settled slowly into the davenport—and also into this hiatus in our harried lives—we became more comfortable with the dark and the quiet. We pondered why people all over the world were so touched with the idea of joining together that they, like us, would do this simple act to further the cause of fighting global warming.

That morning I’d been startled when I sat down to my computer and went to Google. Its homepage was a solid black background. Google as one of the sponsors worldwide of Earth Hour had gone dark from the stroke of midnight until Earth Hour ended at 9 o’clock that evening. What a definitive gesture! I later learned that their tagline was “We’ve turned out the lights. Now it’s your turn—Earth Hour.”

And turn them out they/we did, all around the globe. In 2007, its first year, the main focus was in Australia and New Zealand. Word spread, and last year more than 400 cities and 50 million people became involved. Just think—we were two of those people! Lights went out in such iconic U.S. landmarks as the Empire State Building, Sears Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, and Seattle’s Space Needle. Elsewhere, Stockholm’s Royal Castle, Rome’s Colosseum, Sydney’s Opera House, London’s City Hall, and Bangkok’s Wat Arun Buddhist Temple went dark for the appointed hour. As did our little home!

Where did Earth Hour come from, and what does it accomplish? World Wildlife Fund created it to raise awareness of the need to take action on climate change by asking households and businesses to turn off non-essential electricity for one hour on the last Saturday of March. One goal this year is to influence international agreements on climate change that will be negotiated in Copenhagen in December.

Does it help? Is our Earth less threatened by climate changes because we turn off our lights for an hour a year? Some statistics show decreases in consumption of electricity. Claims are made that the effort equals thousands of cars taken off the road. But these statistics are neither conclusive nor uncontested.

Perhaps awareness is the main thing Earth Hour accomplishes. It makes us think: of what we use, what we take for granted, and how we—the individual and collective “we”—can reduce our usage of coal-generated electrical power.

This year when I Google Earth Hour, I find that more than 1800 cities in 80 countries to date are actively supporting Earth Hour. Even more fun, I find loads of nuggets on their web site of what to do to celebrate Earth Hour…gaze up at the stars in a much darker sky…fondue your dinner (no electricity needed)…organize a party for your school or club…play charades by candlelight…or just settle down on your davenport and quietly chat and cuddle!   

There is, however, an ironic twist to all this. How well I recall a popular sentimental song from World War II, born of blackouts in many cities. Exuding hope for peace, it went, “When the lights go on again all over the world….” Well, the lights went on, but now, because there are so many of us and we all use so much light, and because we’ve learned that everything we do creates an effect, often unintended, millions of us are joining hearts and hands to take part in Earth Hour.

So, come the last Saturday night in March at  8:30, we’ll be in on the effort, prepared this time with our flashlight, candles, matches and wine, to join others “…when the lights go off again all over the world…” for just one hour.

Will you?

By Fran Syverson

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