By Jason Scott
March 28 (Bloomberg) — Earth Hour, an event created in Sydney two years ago by environmentalists keen to cut energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, started today as residents of New Zealand’s Chatham Islands turned off their lights.
Inhabitants of the islands, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of New Zealand, were among the 1 billion people worldwide organizers say may participate in the event. Lights at the Sydney Opera House were cut two hours later, one of 829 iconic landmarks expected to darken including the Empire State Building in New York, London’s Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Las Vegas Strip, according to an Earth Hour statement. A total of 3,929 cities in 88 countries are expected to take part.
Organizers want the event to underline public support for government policies to cut greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming. World emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 2.8 percent last year as coal consumption outpaced crude oil and cleaner-burning natural gas, BP Plc said.
“People want to know how they can be part of the solution rather than the problem,” said John Wright, the director of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s energy transformed flagship. “People worldwide are realizing it’s an issue.”
CO2 reductions are needed to help prevent the average world temperature from warming 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoid the worst effects of climate change, some scientists say.
U.S. President Barack Obama has reversed the previous administration’s climate-change policy and wants Congress to endorse emissions-trading legislation by early next year.
To be sure, Earth Hour has its critics.
An “Anti-Earth Hour” group on Facebook is urging members to “keep every light you own running during Earth Hour,” which it says will “change nothing.”
Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Denmark-based think tank Copenhagen Consensus Centre and author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” said in the Australian yesterday that Earth Hour participants using candles after switching off their lights would probably emit more CO2 gases. Earth Hour is “an entirely symbolic gesture that creates the mistaken impression that there are easy, quick fixes to climate change,” Lomborg wrote.
When it began in Sydney in 2007, 2 million Australians participated. Last year, the event went international with 400 cities joining in. Dubai, Bangkok and New Zealand’s Christchurch recorded falls in power consumption ranging from 2 percent to 13 percent during the hour.
Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building, will lead Taiwanese companies in shutting off lights tonight. Diners in its 85th floor fine restaurants will eat by candlelight during the switch-off.
The one-hour shutdown will save 2,770 kilowatt-hours of electricity and around $310 in power costs, said Anne Wang, a spokeswoman for Taiwan Financial Centre Corp., which owns the buildings.
In Malaysia, about 5 million people, about one-quarter of the population, will cut their lights, according to Earth Hour advertisements in national media. In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers plans to switch off external floodlights.
In Singapore, lights will be dimmed along the island- state’s Orchard Road shopping belt and Singapore River tourist district, including the city’s Merlion attraction, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.
Khao San Road
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will push a button to turn off the lights at Khao San Road, a famous Bangkok street for foreign backpackers. Electricity at the Grand Palace, Temple of the Dawn and other tourist attractions will be shut down. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said in a statement it wants to reduce the electricity usage in the city of more than 8 million people by at least 30 percent during the hour.
“It’s quite trendy to help save the planet,” said Panitta Rojanajirapa, 33, a computer engineer in Bangkok. “I will ask my parents to join the program. Even though we are a small part of the world, we should do something to help. It’s better than doing nothing.”
India is joining Earth Hour for the first time, with New Delhi and Mumbai among cities that will switch off lights. About 60 buildings in Jakarta will darken, and more than 21,000 Indonesians have signed up a local message group supporting the event, said Verena Puspawardani, a local co-ordinator.
Other landmarks to go dark tonight include the Great Pyramids, Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, the Sydney Opera House and the Acropolis in Athens. Organizers concede it may be difficult to judge whether the event will reach its 1 billion people participation target.
Not Big in Japan
Not all countries have embraced the event. While some international companies operating in the countries will individually dim lights, the only two Group of 20 nations not participating are Japan and Saudi Arabia, according to the Earth Hour organizers.
“It hasn’t resonated in the same way as it has in other countries in Japan,” Andy Ridley, the event’s executive director said by phone from Sydney yesterday. “A lot probably gets lost in communication because a tiny little team in Australia kicked this thing off.”
At his home in Maitland, a small city in Australia’s New South Wales state with a population of around 62,000, Wright said he plans to switch off every electrical switch and appliance and go for a walk.
“It’s not going to make any measurable difference to energy use across the year, but if it’s going to create awareness, that’s a positive thing,” he said. “I’m hoping lots of people will turn off their lights so I can see more stars,” he said.