09 October 2009

Earth Hour 2009

How South Africans celebrate the Hour of Darkness.

28 MARCH 20h30 - 21h30

E-Day is practically upon us, and I don't mean to be pessimistic but at the moment the groundswell is feeling to me more like a barely perceptible tremor. Are we just going to go shining blindly on into the coming night? Am I going to have to go out in a balaclava and destroy some electricity cables?

So far the only truly undiluted enthusiasm I've noted in my neck of the woods has come from my neighbour, Mila, just turned 17. She started her own recruitment drive on Facebook weeks ago to get people to sign up (way ahead of this environmentalist), and is going all out with an “Earth Hour Partay”.

In her own words:

“Ek gaan hierdie wonderlike uur as 'n (week late) verjaardagpartytjie beskou. Ek wil graag vriende oornooi op Saterdagaand sodat ons almal in die donkerte crazy goed kan doen. So ek gaan 'n Earth Hour partay hou! yay :) Ek wil organiese kos/snacks (niks ongesonds nie), musiek (walvis, trancey...), baie baie baie kerse, maandanse ens. he.”

You can brush this aside as a case of Green being the latest teen fad, but I don’t think so. There’s gravity beneath the levity when you talk to many young people like Mila about heavy environmental issues: her generation are the inheritors of a spoilt planet, and they know it.

So what’s up with the adults then?
There’ve been a few still, small voices piping up with support for the cause on the EnviroHealth forum (and a few who “think it's pointless because we produce CO2 just by breathing” or “would rather eat worms”), though not quite the resonant chorus I’d been hoping for. But hey, we're not all a complete dead loss. Here are a few grownups that make it easier for the rest of us to face the kids:

World-class mountaineers Jeremy and Rachel Colenso have spent a large part of their lives in some of the remotest and least sullied wilderness areas left on the planet.

Yet climbers are witnessing climate change's impact in their inaccessible playgrounds too. Especially noticeable, say the Colensos, who know the area well from expeditions over the years, is how glaciers are shrinking in the Alps.

For Earth Hour the couple is likely to be, not surprisingly, camping somewhere in the Cape Peninsula semi-wilderness with daughter Rosemary. "We're hoping to get a clear view of the stars without the light pollution," says Rachel. Raising awareness of climate change is important to them as people who have always been deeply invested in the natural environment, and now as parents they want to make sure Rosemary (whose vocabulary included the word "rock" very early on) will be able to benefit from it as much as they have.

Craig Barker, a crew leader for Volunteer Wildfire Services, has put in many hours this summer helping to protect Table Mountain National Park from, as he precisely puts it, "the harsh impact of overly excessive wildfires", so it's fitting that he's planning to spend Earth Hour having snacks and "light-downers" on, or gazing at, the mountain when its flood-lights go out.

"I believe Earth Hour is an excellent and necessary concept to draw attention to the vast consequences climate change has already had and will continue to have on our environment," he says.

One such consequence that is of particular concern to wildland firefighters like Craig is that hotter, drier trends in many parts of the world, including the South Western Cape, California and Australia, set the stage for wildfires starting more easily and frequently, and being harder to control. Wildfire smoke also adds to greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants.

When I spotted Freshly Ground's Zolani Mahola on Lion's Head a few days ago, my immediate response was What's she doing here? She's a muso: they don't go hiking.

A failing of environmentalists is that they sometimes think the environment belongs to the environmentalists.

On severely misanthropic days I think the environment belongs to me; more specifically I think Lion's Head belongs to me.

But not only, it seems, does Zolani quite often go hiking on the mountain or alongside the sea, but she is also celebrating Earth Hour - with friends and a candlelit dinner:

"I'll be in Joburg so I definitely want a view of the city lights as they go out. It's a simple, but clever idea to get people to notice and then naturally start to ask what it's about. It's an effective way for people who've never thought of it before to make the connection between power and and what we're taking from nature, and the impact on the planet."

Yes, and you?
If you’re still casting about for direction for your Saturday night, check out the EnviroHealth Forum for other reader's ideas. Then there’s also conversation, shadow puppets, sparklers, acoustic instruments, singalongs (OK, maybe spare the neighbours those last two for the whole hour...) Blind-man's-bluff. Seances. No, I’m not going down that inevitable route of Other Things to do in the Dark. But of course there is that too.

We'd love to know what on earth are you're going to be up to for Earth Hour...and how you plan to keep up the momentum come mundane Monday. Let us know on the forum, or post a message in the comment box below.

Earth Hour FAQ

It's being called the first global vote and the greatest voluntary action ever. Here's what it's about in a nutshell:

What is it?
Earth Hour is 28 March, 20h30-21h30, when anyone in the world who cares about climate change is switching off their lights. An OFF switch = a vote for the Earth; an ON switch = a vote for global warming.

Everyone taking part is signing up (takes 30 seconds – I timed it) on the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Earth Hour web site, so that the "votes" can actually be counted.

But why? What's the point?
Earth Hour is part of the buildup to Copengahen 2009, the United Nation's Conference on Climate Change, at which Barack Obama and other world leaders will make crucial decisions on emissions policy.

The Big Lights Out is a simple, dramatic way to send a message to the world's leaders that we're sick of conversation without action. 2009 will probably go down in history as the year humankind turned the environmental crisis around – or hopelessly failed to do so…

Are people really going to go for this?
Well, some of us certainly are. Over 1000 cities and towns have signed up – even more than expected. And millions of people are switching off: the target is 1 billion.

Are you supposed to just switch off your lights or everything electrical?
That's up to you, but I think it's kind of missing the point to turn the lights off and then stick a load of washing in the tumbledryer.

Is everyone switching off at the same time?
Everyone is switching off when the clock strikes 20h30, wherever they are. (If the whole world switched off simultaneously, then some people would be doing so in broad daylight, which wouldn't be much fun.)

What are we supposed to do for that hour?
Anything you like. As you can see from the examples above, some people are having Earth Hour partays, others more genteel candle-lit sit-downs. Some are just going to mellow out and enjoy an hour free of light pollution.

Just keep in mind it's probably best to stay off the darkened streets, and watch out for the naked flames with all those candles...

Sign up for Earth Hour here

(- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, March 2009)

Photo of Zolani by Simon Attwell. Other photos by Olivia Rose-Innes


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