March 30, 2008

World Marks “˜Earth Hour’ to Highlight Climate Change

Cities around the world turned out their lights for sixty minutes Saturday for "Earth Hour", a global campaign to highlight the threat of climate change.

New Zealand and Fiji kicked off the event, with Sydney, Australia "“ the first major city to participate "“ turning out the lights on the city's two architectural icons, the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, at 2000 (0900 GMT) against the backdrop of a dramatic lightning storm.

In Bangkok, Thailand lights went out at the well-known Wat Arun Buddhist temple.  Manila, Philippines darkened several shopping and cultural centers. Castles in Sweden and Denmark turned out their lights, joined by the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary and a several landmarks in Warsaw, Poland.  In the UK, Canterbury Cathedral and London City Hall went dark.

In all, hundreds of cities in 35 different countries participated in the event.  

In North America, cities such as Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco took part, with famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sears Tower going dark.  

In Chicago, more than 200 downtown buildings dimmed their lights, including the stripe of white light around the top of the John Hancock Center and the red-and-white marquee outside Wrigley Field.

In Phoenix, all downtown city-owned buildings went dark for one hour.   And in San Francisco, restaurants operated with only candlelight while Coat Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge went completely dark. 

Even Internet search engine Google lent its support by blackening its normally white Web site and urging its customers to participate in the event, "We've turned the lights out. Now it's your turn," the company posted on its Web site.

The initiative started last year in Australia where an estimated 2.2 million observed a blackout estimated to have cut energy use by more than 10% for the hour.  But this year, organizers said 380 cities across South America, Europe and North America also participated.    Earth Hour officials hoped 100 million people would turn off their nonessential lights and electronic goods for the hour.

"What's amazing is that it's transcending political boundaries and happening in places like China, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea," Andy Ridley, executive director of Earth Hour, told the Associated Press. "It really seems to have resonated with anybody and everybody."

"There's a widespread belief that somehow people in the United States don't understand that this is a problem that we're lazy and wedded to our lifestyles.

[Earth Hour] demonstrates that that is wrong," Richard Moss, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and WWF's climate change vice president, told the Associated Press Saturday.

Greece, an hour ahead of most of Europe, was the first country on the continent to mark Earth Hour, when much of the population on the isle of Aegina, near Athens, marched by candlelight to the port.   Parts of Athens itself, including the floodlit city hall, also turned out the lights.

In Ireland, many government buildings, bridges and monuments in more than a dozen cities and towns shut off the lights in response to an order by the country's coalition government.

However, some Irish businesses did not participate in Earth Hour.  The international brokerages and banks of Dublin's financial district remained lit, illuminating the buildings' empty offices.

"The banks should have embraced this wholeheartedly and they didn't. But it's a start. Maybe next year," Cathy Flanagan, an Earth Hour organizer in Dublin, told the Associated Press.

In addition to the financial district businesses, Ireland's more than 7,000 pubs also decided not to participate in the event, primarily out of concern for patrons who they feared might end up smashing glasses, falling down stairs, or setting themselves on fire with candles.

But throughout Europe, many countries, including France, Germany, Spain and European Institutions, did nothing to commemorate Earth Hour.

Organizers insist the goal of Earth Hour is to demonstrate that communities care deeply about climate change and want their governments to take appropriate action.

Australia is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, and many believe the country's recent droughts and floods are the direct result of manmade climate change, according to a BBC News report from Sydney.  Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has made the environment a priority.  Soon after taking office, he signed up to the Kyoto Protocol and began tackling the issue of climate change.