Last year, for the very first Earth Hour, we bundled ourselves up a picnic supper and drove off to the parking nightmare that is the north shore of Sydney Harbour. Sitting in the gloaming of a nature reserve, with hundreds of other Earth Hour devotees. This was a people-filled event, just like New Years Eve fireworks. Yet instead of the city being lit by an orgy of pastel coloured exploding light, it was about to wink out. We munched and supped as the iconic Harbour Bridge lights disappeared. And many of the business district skyscrapers dimmed also. But the distinct Opera House retained it's under-lit spotlights. Someone must've gone to the toilet at the crucial moment, or had a flat battery in their watch because it was nearly a half hour later before these lights were also eventually snuffed out. A Sydney skyline of mostly dark silhouettes reminded me of the final scene in the movie 'Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome', where the children gather in its shadows to envision a fresh future.
This year, conscious that driving even a fuel efficient compact car to a harbourside venue was no doubt much more deleterious than turning off a few lights at home, we stayed put. Out went the few compact fluoros and appliances we had running, and we ate our dinner by the warm gold flicker of a half dozen candles, followed by a candle lit game of human-powered backgammon, instead of watching the teev. Whereas the inaugural event in 2007 was largely Sydney-centric, this year organisers WWF saw that it went nationwide (and of course, international). It even captured the imagination of our new Federal government, with over 100 federal departments and agencies having signed-up to participate. In the nation's capital, apparently even the High Court, the National Library and the Royal Australian Mint were shutting off lights for the hour. My partner said the network of hospitals, where she works, were cutting lights back to just essential services for Earth Hour and had sent around a notice, which was then inspiring staff, who weren't rostered on, to consider doing something different with their Saturday night.
And this is probably the real benefit of Earth Hour. It's not the carbon emissions saved in that 60 minutes than really matter, rather the thought processes that are lit up in people's consciousness.
[Although, the National Electricity Market Management Company says Australia’s national energy grid saw an energy reduction of 1,000 megawatts for the hour. This is seemingly equivalent of two large power stations being temporarily shut down. They say that demand dropped not just in the cities, but also regional centres too.]
More pix and info at the Sydney Morning Herald.