Earth Hour: Lights out for good

Photo: earthhour.org
Make Earth Hour be every hour with these tips for smarter living.

It’s hard to believe this is only the third year that Earth Hour has been celebrated. The worldwide “lights out”—in support of action on climate change—takes place this year on Saturday, March 27 from 8:30 to 9:30 pm (local time). And while it may be a symbolic gesture, it’s also a powerful one. Last year, more than 50 million people in 400-plus cities and all seven continents participated, and iconic buildings including the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the Coliseum went dark. Here are nine ways we can take the spirit behind Earth Hour and integrate it into our daily lives for the other 8759 hours in a year.

Try a technology detox

During Earth Hour, many of us will be enjoying a candlelit meal, board games with family and friends or an evening stroll with the dog. This will be in contrast with all the hours we spend with a computer, TV, cell phone, MP3 player or PDA. Don’t get us wrong: Technology is great. But the more we use our favourite toys, the more energy they use. Plus, always being “plugged in” and available (especially to employers) can really dial up a person’s stress level. Use Earth Hour as a reminder to set aside designated times to use—and enjoy!—technology.

Lower the lights

Turning off lights is a good start, but we can also use other light-saving tools at home, such as dimmer switches, motion sensors and task lighting. And, of course, switch to energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).

We can also take steps to help reduce light pollution in your community without compromising safety. Talk to your community leaders about successful lighting programs. For example, between 2002 and 2005, the City of Calgary retrofitted more than 37,000 residential street lights with lower-wattage, flat lens fixtures, saving about 25,000 megawatt hours and so much money that it’s estimated that they’ll recoup their investment by 2012.

And not only does excessive and inefficient lighting in public and private buildings suck up a huge amount of energy, it’s also damaging to wildlife. Light acts as a kind of magnet for many bird species, drawing them off course, and on a possible collision path, while they’re migrating at night. Learn more about the harmful effects of light pollution from programs such as the Fatal Light Awareness Program and International Dark-Sky Association.

Seek out energy hogs

The real electricity hogs in our homes aren’t the lights, but our appliances. The top energy users? In order from most to least, they are: the dryer, the stove, the fridge, the washing machine, the dishwasher and the freezer. Check with your local hydro company about ways to reduce the energy use of your appliances. For example, BC Hydro notes that boiling water in an electric kettle is more efficient than using most stovetops, and Ontario’s Hydro One says that a freezer is most efficient when it’s two-thirds full rather than jam-packed. Choose Energy Star-rated appliances, too.

Think about the source of stuff

Taking responsibility for reducing the amount of energy we use at home and in our vehicles is key. But take a step forward on the path to sustainability and consider the energy that goes into producing the items you buy. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2005 (the most recent data available), the industries that consumed the most energy included pulp and paper, mining, manufacturing and petroleum refining. Of course, a lifestyle free of products made from those industries is pretty unrealistic, but we can reduce the amount we consumer or make better choices. Ask yourself, Is it necessary? Could I buy something else that took less energy to produce? Buying locally and asking producers how they use energy are both good ideas. A website like climatecounts.org can also help you identify which big corporations are taking steps to reduce their climate footprint as well. 

Read more stories in our special Earth Hour series:

Dinner Tips for Dining in the Dark: entertaining advice and recipe ideas from Lindsay Evans

Off-the-grid Gadgets: 10 must-haves for generating your own power

Green Living's Earth Hour Playlist: 14 Great tracks from eco-conscious artists 

For a detailed list of times and locations for events happening in your community, please visit www.EarthHourCanada.org.