Was Earth Hour a success?
The official line taken by the organizers, World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is that yes, it was, a resounding success, and admittedly the figures aren't too shabby:
From the Chatham Islands through 24 time zones all the way round the globe to Honolulu, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people in 4000 urban areas in 88 countries taking part in Saturday night's event.
I spent a decidedly unromantic Earth Hour pacing about Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront avoiding WWF people in scary panda suits, and then driving through the city centre, to check who had and who hadn’t flipped their switches.
A strange longing for load-shedding
I started feeling all fond and nostalgic for last year's blackouts – which, once you got past the inconvenience and irritation, brought moments of unequivocal, rare, deep, velvety darkness.
Saturday’s darkness was of a shallower variety. The city was dimmed, true, but if I hadn’t known I’m not sure I would’ve noticed. OK, so a lot of the light was coming from street lights, which needed to stay on for safety reasons.
That wasn’t what disappointed me. What did was the number of corporate logos I saw at the Waterfront and in the CBD showing up splendidly in the semi-darkness. Most businesses in these vicinities clearly thought it more important to keep beaming out their names than to spare us the glare for one measly hour.
There were a few notable omissions that cheered me up: Exclusive Books, for example, was impressively plunged into total darkness and closed for the hour. The slightly anxious female employee guarding the entrance pointed out that even the computers were off.
Also heartening was hearing complete strangers striking up conversations about the event, and witnessing people making an occasion out of an otherwise humdrum Saturday. And not because it required spending loads of cash or making elaborate plans: the occasion was special because it involved doing ordinary things a little differently, and encouraged contemplation of those ordinary things.
Lovely light, divine darkness
I found myself musing over light itself: just how much it fills our nights with extravagant splashes and spills. Electric lights can be gorgeous: which modern city doesn’t look more glamorous decked out in these jewels after dark?
But Saturday reminded us that doing without – not just light, but all our other excesses – may not only be feasible, it could also be quite fun and make life a little more interesting. Darkness, starlight and the odd candle, and simply giving the eyes a rest from flash and dazzle, can be pretty gorgeous too.
(- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, March 2009)
Read more: Health impact of light pollution
How South Africans celebrated Earth Hour 2009