March 28, 2009

Why You Should Turn Off the Lights Tonight

After the American Century

Turn off the lights for one hour, tonight. Why?

(1) Because this is a way for people all over the world to demonstrate, quite painlessly, that we are concerned about global warming and the over-intensive use of fossil fuels.

(2) Because all of us can use less energy every day, without sacrificing anything, and we need to remember that we are not passive spectators, watching global warming. We are actors. We can make a difference, if we act together. In 1997, the average home in the OECD countries used 38 watts every day just to keep appliances on standby. These 386 million households were wasting 14,634 megawatts a day. Does anyone think this waste is necessary? Of course not. But we need to make an effort.

(3) Because the electrified world is historically new, and once in a while we need to remember what darkness looks like. Human beings evolved without artificial light, and during this hour we might reflect on where we stand in relation to the more than 100,000 years of human history. Human beings have used electricity for light and power for less than one tenth of one percent of human history. In that blink of an eye, historically speaking, we have polluted the atmosphere and the sea and unbalanced ecological systems in ways that we are struggling to understand.

(4) Because your house and your family seen by candlelight are beautiful in ways that you may not have seen lately. The human eye did not evolve to see the world blanketed in electric light, but rather evolved to see somewhat differently by day and by night.

(5) Because if the sky is clear, you will get a good look at the heavens. The urban landscape especially can be improved by reducing electric light. Most urbanites scarcely see the heavens at night, because excessive artificial light reflects into the atmosphere, making it impossible to see more than the brightest stars.

So why let this night be like all the others? Why not turn out the lights, and look for a local arrangement celebrating "Earth Hour" as it is called in many places, following the Australians who began this ritual in Sydney. The Danes are calling it something else, and starting not on the hour but at 20:30.

As the Toronto Star put it last year, “This event is an opportunity to show how individuals acting together as a community can have a huge impact. Ultimately, we hope it gets people thinking and talking here in Toronto and in cities around the world about real solutions to what is arguably the most important issue of our time.”