Yesterday, March 29, 2008 was the second annual Earth Hour event, the brainchild of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), not to be confused with the World Wrestling Federation who probably couldn’t spell it anyhow. The event was started in 2007 to draw attention to global climate change, and how the average person and their city could do something to help. It began in Australia, where there seems to be more concern and a general willingness to participate than here in the U.S. I realize these sorts of events grow slowly, this is only the second year, so maybe over time it will get more press time and more notice. Still, I was dismayed that only a couple dozen cities actually committed to act and dim lights on public buildings, monuments and offices. Portland took no part, it was a footnote in the news. It was virtually ignored in much of western Europe. France, Germany and Spain did not participate at all. Sweden dimmed the lights at the royal palace in Stockholm, and several cities in Denmark officially signed up. Kvitfjell, a ski resort in Norway where the ’94 Olympic downhill event took place, went dark.
Canada of course out un-shone us. There were a handful of cities in the U.S. that made at least a token effort. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was darkened, Chicago turned out the lights on some 200 buildings along the riverfront. Even with that, the glare of the city behind it was as bright and blinding as ever.
I’m curious if Tokyo took part? Darkness in Tokyo would be a novel experience, for those citizens who have never seen stars. If you have not been to Tokyo, I can assure you from experience that the light pollution there is breathtaking. You truly can not see any stars in the sky from the glare of the city lights. As an amateur astronomer, my heart goes out to all the would-be astronomers in Tokyo who can see nothing. But that’s another issue, although it does sort of dovetail onto this. March 29 – April 4, 2008 happens to be National Dark Sky Week, sponsored by the International Dark-Sky Association. More on that later.
I was also saddened to see that I was apparently the only person in my neighborhood, and for blocks around, that bothered to turn off the lights last night. Even the hippy neighbors two doors down had all their lights blazing. According to the Earth Hour US Web site, less than 300,000 people had signed up to participate. That’s not many. I can understand how people might think “What good would one hour do?” It is small, but if it gets you thinking about turning off lights the rest of the time, it served it’s purpose. I have to admit, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to kill the lights. I normally have most of the house dark anyway, except for whichever room I happen to be in. I rarely watch tv, haven’t had cable in years. I did, however, unplug things that suck power even when not in use: the microwave, tv, stereo, DVD player, clock radio in my bedroom, nightlights that are plugged in and on because my house is kind of dark even in the day. I even unplugged my answering machine. I still haven’t plugged a lot of it back in. It’s amazing how much power we use, even when we’re not using anything.
So ok, one hour a year doesn’t seem like much. But what if these cities and everyone in the country shut everything off for one hour every WEEK? Would that make a difference?