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Lights out for the world

(Pic by raja4u /
DON’T be alarmed if some of your neighbours’ homes and landmarks like the KL Tower stand in darkness for one hour from 8.30pm on Saturday, 28 March 2009. In other cities across the globe, there will be a similar lights-out at the respective local time.

They’re all participating in Earth Hour, a global climate change initiative by WWF. The idea is to rope in individuals, organisations, companies, cities and governments to turn off their non-essential electric lights at the designated time and show support for more global action on climate change.

Switching off

It all started in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Some two million people, businesses and organisations turned off their lights to show their support for efforts to address climate change problems. The following year, it became a global event with more than 50 million people participating in the movement.

The Earth Hour 2009 video here shows some of the renowned landmarks that stood in darkness to support the cause in the past. These included the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Coca Cola billboard in New York City, USA; the Colosseum in Rome, Italy; and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

The video includes messages from Richard Branson, Cate Blanchett and Nelly Furtado, who incidentally has a song titled Turn Off the Light.

Other Earth Hour videos feature Alanis Morissette turning off the guy sitting next to her in The Huge Turn Off, and, closer to home, a “Malaysia gangster” pummelling someone in the dark.

This year, Earth Hour has raised the bar by aiming to get at least one billion people in 1,000 cities participating in what it calls “the world’s first global election between Earth and global warming”. A press statement by Earth Hour on 12 March said there were already 1,189 cities and towns across 80 countries which had committed to switch off their lights.

Among the landmarks that have pledged to stand in darkness for a good cause this year are the Opera House in Helsinki, Finland, CN Tower in Toronto, Canada and Burj Al Arab in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In Malaysia, watch out for the Penang Bridge and KL Tower. For the full list of participants, click here.

WWF Malaysia says Malaysia officially joined the movement this year, with a target of five million sign-ups. Several local celebrities like Reshmonu, Hans Isaac, Zainal Abidin, Yasmin Ahmad and Maya Karin have also pitched in to raise awareness on Earth Hour.

Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa will turn off its floodlights for Earth Hour 2009
(Source: Earth Hour Media Library)

Don’t just stand in darkness

But any real effort to address climate change problems entails much more than the symbolic gesture of signing up and turning off the lights for one hour every year. Earth Hour acknowledges that this gesture is just a start.

“We want one billion votes for Earth, to tell world leaders that we have to take action against global warming,” it says on its website.

“For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, races and backgrounds have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote,” it says.

“Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from.”

Earth Hour plans to present the “results” of this “election” at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in December this year.

Other than “voting”, individuals, organisations like schools and companies, and cities that sign up also get tips and tools — some more useful than others — to help reduce their carbon footprint, not just during the designated Earth Hour but every day.

There are specific pointers for different groups, whether as an individual, company or public authority. There is even a letter template to lobby lawmakers and policymakers to support a strong climate change treaty and curb deforestation.

It also urges lawmakers to support legislation to establish a cap-and-trade programme to lower domestic greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency standards, among others.

(Info source: Earth Hour)

Going viral online

The Earth Hour website provides various ways for people to promote the movement: download online banners, badges and wallpapers for websites; and download and print (only if that’s the most effective way to promote it in your location) posters with limited edition Shepard Fairey artwork.

Shephard Fairey poster (Source: Earth Hour)

The online medium enables Earth Hour to make the movement a global community endeavour with plenty of input from the ground. It encourages participants to “spread the word” and make it viral through blogs, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and other social networking sites.

Participants are asked to record the event — the different ways individuals and organisations choose to turn off the lights and occupy that one hour, wherever they are — and share it online with the rest of the world.

Participants are also asked to share stories on how climate change is affecting them and what they want to do about it. Who knows? Others may learn from them or have some effective pointers to offer.

While it may be fun to hop on this bandwagon, we need to do more than just switch off the lights — non-essential lights, that is — at 8.30pm on 28 March 2009. When we do need to turn the figurative light on again, what would be more effective in the long term is to use energy-saving bulbs and appliances, reduce wastage and carbon emission, and lobby for good national and international policies.

A word of caution before you switch off the lights for that designated hour: Earth Hour advises that you turn off only non-essential lights — not lights that affect personal or public safety.

“There are a few lights that should NOT be turned off, including street lights, safety lights in public spaces, lights for aviation guidance, traffic lights, security lights, just to name a few. We ask people to use common sense,” it says.

(Info source: Earth Hour)

Cindy Tham is glad that The Nut Graph uses energy-saving bulbs and appliances, and sometimes turns on only one inverter air-con for an office of eight staff.

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2 Responses to “Lights out for the world”

  1. navin says:

    For a moment, I thought that Earth Hour would coincide with the Sunburst festival happening this weekend (Sunburst – 21 March / Earth Hour – 28 March).

    It got me thinking … wouldnt it be great to have a lights-out concert during Earth Hour? No need for bright lights, stadium-sized crowds or massive electronic instruments. Just good acoustic music, maybe some a-capella. Something which encourages participation.

    An acoustic tribute to Mother Earth. Sounds like a great idea! And why cant we have Earth Hour every six months or every month?

  2. specky says:

    Let’s hope this good cause achieves its goal.

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