Thoughts on “Earth Hour”

I haven’t seen the “official” writings about last night’s Earth Hour yet. I thought I’d record my personal reactions before absorbing the Sydney Morning Herald party line.

Photo of Pong on William Street during Earth Hour

’Pong was booked for a photo shoot on William Street for stock agency Gekko Images. Apparently it’s the first time ever that the illuminated Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross is being turned off. “Magnanimous gesture for humanity,” I think the headline should read. ‘World’s largest caffeine pusher ceases visually polluting one tiny bit of the planet for 3600 seconds.” Their share price plummets as we speak. The moment must be recorded for posterity.

So at sunset I find myself on a train, city-bound…

Before we plunge into the tunnel leading to Town Hall, I’m pleased to see most government offices darkened already. Why does an office need every surface illuminated as if brain surgery is being conducted behind the filing cabinets? When I move into a house I replace the light bulbs immediately, halving their wattage. Does a metre-square toilet really need 75W? I know we all look at our poo and deny it, but that doesn’t require lighting that’ll fry the tapeworms on exit. Real estate agents must have shares in coal.

I’m pleased to see that the few offices still attended have mostly set up a desk lamp just for the person who needs it, rather than floodlighting the entire floor for a phantom army of filing clerks.

But I’m disappointed to notice how much light is still wasted. Railway workshops are brightly lit, though the workers won’t return until Monday. Every convenience store lit up as a beacon for passing aliens. If, as we’re told, 20% of urban electricity is for lighting, two-thirds of that is used by 7-Eleven.

I arrive at the corner of Hyde Park before ’Pong, and watch a vortex of fruitbats preparing for their nightly foraging sortie. A lone currawong flops its way past at a lower altitude, its distinctive call almost drowned out by the buses. A posse of Japanese skateboarders makes its way into the park, to practice their tricks in front of a memorial to the men who killed their grandfathers. Sitting on the footpath with my back against the still-sunwarm sandstone, I’m sure my battered black sweater and jeans makes me look like a vagrant. I secretly relish the idea of the police asking me to move on, of telling them to fuck off.

I remember all the electrical items I forgot to turn off before I left home. The microwave oven, advertising its blue-LED time to an empty room. The telephone charger under the bed.

And ’Pong arrives. He soon realises, as I did minutes before, that the traditional photographs down William Street must’ve been taken from the middle of Park Street, right where a queue of taxis turns right into College Street. So he scouts ahead down the hill, and finds another spot — on the median strip at Riley Street. He shoots the Coke-lit “before” shot, and we wait.

Already Sydney Tower is almost invisible with its external lighting gone. It’s just a candle-lit pod of a restaurant floating a couple hundred metres up in the darkness, the aircraft warning beacon higher again — reassuringly still on. Westfield’s offices and the Boulevard Hotel are hidden in gloom.

But others have ignored the Earth Hour challenge. Real estate agents keep empty office space brightly lit. J C Decaux dare not turn off their illuminated advertising on public telephones and bus shelters. Stores selling fitness equipment and European sports cars glare into the night.

Suddenly the moment comes. Earth Hour has begun!

And William Street is almost exactly the same as before.

And that’s because William Street is a major traffic artery. Street lights and vehicle headlights dominate, and none of that changes. Cars have lights so bright to stand out from the other cars whose lights are so bright. The streetlights are so bright because, with everyone’s night vision destroyed by the cars, there must be enough light for loud, stupid, drunken backpackers to see where they’re walking lest they sue the council for failing to have an enormous sign saying “Beware! The surface of the Earth may not be completely smooth.”

Somewhere up to the east, a tiny rectangle which was once bright red is now dark like the building behind it. History is made, and recorded.

“Where have all the hookers gone? I suddenly wonder. “There should be hookers on William Street.” A smell of garlic wafts from a nearby restaurant. It’s time for us to eat. Earth Hour is over. Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald are smugly satisfied that They Have Done Their Part, and turn the TV back on.

[UPDATE 2 April 2007: I haven’t just bitched about this, I’ve also posted some green computing tips on my business website — as well as following them. Stand by.]

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