I just spent an hour in the dark.
It wasn't for fun or because of a blackout. I took part in Earth Hour.
I found out about this the same way many people computer users probably did - through Google. If you didn't notice, Google made their screen black "as a gesture to raise awareness of a worldwide energy conservation effort called Earth Hour."
Then I went to the link and found out about a program to raise the awareness of conservation by asking people to turn off their lights from 8 pm to 9 pm local time. It started in Sydney, Australia, last year, and has now spread to the globe.
I, quite frankly, like the idea.
Yes, I know, turning our lights out for one hour isn't going to do a lot to cut energy usage. But it is an effective symbol. And it will get people thinking about their energy usage and how they can cut it.
And I don't think there's anything wrong with symbolism and getting people thinking. Especially about conservation! Because too much of the talk is just on alternative energy sources - without discussing at all, ways we cut energy uses down.
So here's to Earth Hour! Long may it live!
An excerpt from National Geographic's "Earth Hour: Cities, Landmarks to Go Dark" by Ker Than...
Cities with iconic skylines were also preferred, (World Wide Fund for Nature - formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund - spokesperson Leslie) Aun said.
"It's an event that everyone can take part in, but it makes a bigger statement if you can see a few skyscrapers go out," she said.
Last year in Sydney, decorative lights at the city's Opera House and Harbor Bridge went dark.
Following in that tradition, the lights of major landmarks in participating cities will be turned off for Earth Hour 2008.
The Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge in San Francisco will go dark, as will the CNN Tower in Atlanta, the basketball arena in Phoenix, and the Sears Tower and Theater District in Chicago.
"The witch from [the Broadway musical] Wicked is going to come out and wave her wand to turn off the light of the theater there," Aun said.
Despite its good intentions, some scientists worry that people will misinterpret the goal of Earth Hour.
"It seems to imply that shutting off the lights is the only solution to climate change," said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York City.
But Andreas Schmittner, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, said that as long as carbon emissions keep increasing, anything that raises awareness about climate change is a good thing.
"We have not gone to any effective measure to reduce those carbon emissions," Schmittner said.
"Until that is achieved, it is good to raise awareness to keep the issue in the public discussion."
Time's "Earth Hour '08: Did It Matter?" by Bryan Walsh...
The average American produces about 20 tons of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) every year. That might sound like a lot — and Americans do have among the biggest carbon footprints in the world — but the entire world emits around 27 billion tons of CO2 each year, through transportation, electricity use, deforestation. Look at those numbers for a moment, and you'll realize there's very little that any of us can do on an individual level to stop climate change. Live like a monk, take away your 20 tons — stop breathing if you'd like — and you'll barely scratch the surface.
It's numbers like those that can make Earth Hour so easy to criticize. Starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 29 in Christchurch, New Zealand, citizens from around the world turned off their lights for an hour, to draw attention to the connection between energy use and climate change. From New Zealand, the event moved westward with the sun to Australia, Manila, Dubai, Dublin, New York, Chicago and finally San Francisco, where both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge went dark for an hour. Carter Roberts, head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which sponsored Earth Hour, said the global event was designed to "make a statement about our commitment to solve the climate change problem and symbolize the commitment that people will make throughout the rest of the year."
Earth Hour didn't suffer for a lack of gimmicks. Servers wearing glow-in-the-dark necklaces sold eco-tinis at bars and restaurants in Phoenix. A local yoga house in Michigan offered sessions by lamplight, and the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago arranged check-in by candlelight. Watching the lights wink off in major metropolitan areas now doubt looked impressive, but it's worth asking: What was the point? As Roberts himself noted, the energy saved by turning off the lights for an hour "won't make an enormous difference." So, if it won't cut carbon emissions, why bother then with Earth Hour, or Earth Day or Earth Live, last year's daylong concert for the environment?
Because climate change is essentially a political problem, and the language of politics is symbolism. Just because an act is symbolic doesn't mean it empty. The only way to truly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to take the pressure off global warming, is an international regime that puts a cap and a price on climate pollution. And the only way that will happen is if politicians around the world become convinced that climate change is an issue that matters to people, one that will make them change the way they live, buy — and vote. "Unlike most of the issues that we grapple with, climate change is global," said Roberts. "The pressure is on us to do the right thing." If shutting off the lights for an hour on a Saturday night and doing yoga in the dark makes that political support, well, visible, then Earth Hour will have been worth it.
The environmental movement is reaching a delicate moment. We're well past the point where going green is novel, where just doing your bit to save the Earth deserves endless praise. We've become inured to the existence of global warming, to its inconvenient truth, yet we sense that the solutions we've been given — change a light bulb, change your life — fall far short of the scale of the problem. We risk green fatigue because, after all, what can we do about it? But this is the moment when we need to keep pushing in every way we can. The technologies that will help us decarbonize energy are developing, but they need a push — and that will only happen if we keep climate change near the top of our political agenda. Earth Hour, Earth Day, Earth Year — we'll need it all.
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