SYDNEY: Sydney’s Opera House and Harbor Bridge plunged into darkness Saturday to mark Earth Hour, as global landmarks began dimming their lights to draw attention to climate change.
Millions of people from some 170 countries and territories were expected to take part in the annual bid to highlight global warming caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas to drive cars and power plants.
The event, which originated in Sydney, has grown to become a worldwide environmental campaign, celebrated across all continents.
Conservation group WWF, which organizes Earth Hour, said great strides had been made in highlighting the dire state of the planet.
“We started Earth Hour in 2007 to show leaders that climate change was an issue people cared about,” coordinator Siddarth Das said.
“For that symbolic moment to turn into the global movement it is today, is really humbling and speaks volumes about the powerful role of people in issues that affect their lives.”
In Sydney, many harborside buildings switched off their lights for an hour from 8:30 p.m. local time as the call for action began rolling out across the world.
“I agree with the concept, 100 percent,” said student Ed Gellert, 24, in Sydney.
“I think people probably avoid the fact that climate change is happening, so it’s good to see the city grouping together to support Earth Hour.”
From Australia, it moved westward through Asia, where Hong Kong’s skyline went dark in solidarity while at Myanmar’s most sacred pagoda, the Shwedagon, 10,000 oil lamps were to be lit to shine a light on climate action.
The event was also set to be marked throughout Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Monuments including the Empire State Building, the Kremlin, Big Ben, the Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower and Egypt’s pyramids were to go dark to mark the event.
Lisbon was to host a concert by candlelight, Singapore held a “carbon-neutral run,” and Tanzania organized a tree-planting ceremony.
In South Africa, the focus would be on renewable energy while in China, WWF said it was working with businesses to encourage a shift towards more sustainable lifestyles.
Homes and businesses were asked to join in, and individuals can commit to the cause on Facebook.
PH is ‘Hero Country’
In the Philippines, Earth Hour’s main switch-off event was at the SM Mall of Asia complex in the Manila Bay reclamation area.
The WWF lauded the Philippines for topping global participation records from 2009 to 2012, emerging as Earth Hour Hero Country.
“Through the support of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, leagues of municipalities, cities and provinces, the Metro Manila Development Authority and other government partners, Earth Hour in the Philippines has always been a success, with each year witnessing a growing multi-sectoral support system, proving that more and more Filipinos believe in the message of Earth Hour,” said WWF.
Last year, scientists recorded the Earth’s hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row.
Nations agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial temperatures.
That is the level at which many scientists say humankind can still avoid worst-case climate outcomes in terms of rising sea levels, worsening droughts and floods, and increasingly violent superstorms.
“Climate change is visible proof that our actions can have a ripple effect beyond physical borders,” Das said.
“It is up to each of us to ensure the impact we create helps instead to improve the lives of those around us and elsewhere, at present and in the future.”
The Philippines, WWF noted, is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
“The Philippines absorbs some of the world’s most violent typhoons, and has had to adapt to climate change earlier than most countries, yet is home to a resilient and cheerful people who have been championing Earth Hour since 2008,” said WWF.
The moment of darkness should also serve as a reminder, activists say, of another problem that gets far less attention: light pollution.
More than 80 percent of humanity lives under skies saturated with artificial light, scientists recently calculated.
In the United States and western Europe, that figure goes up to 99 percent of the population, most of whom cannot discern the Milky Way in the night sky.
Artificial lighting has been shown to disturb the reproductive cycles of some animals and the migration of birds that navigate using the stars, and to disorient night-flying insects.
For humans, circadian rhythms that regulate hormones and other bodily functions can also be thrown out of whack by too much light at night.
Even the most ardent critics of light pollution are not saying cities should go dark, or that lighting is not an essential element of urban life.
But society needs to address a growing list of concerns, they suggest.
“In general, it’s getting worse,” Diana Umpierre, president of the International Dark-Sky Association, said of
light pollution in her home state of Florida.
And things are moving in the wrong direction, she told AFP.
“We are predicted to have 15 million more residents in the next 50 years” – with all the extra lighting that entails.
By contrast, in Chad, the Central African Republic and Madagascar – not coincidentally among the poorest countries in the world – three quarters of people have a clear view of the heavens.
Arguably, no one suffers more from light pollution than astronomers whose telescopes are blinded by the glare of urban glow.
In 1958, Flagstaff, Arizona – more than 2,100 meters (nearly 8,000 feet) above sea level – became the first sizeable city to curb night lighting, mainly to shield a major observatory.
Not taken lightly
One of the biggest challenges in fighting light pollution is convincing people that “brightness” is not synonymous with “safety,” said Umpierre.
“Sometimes it’s just the opposite,” she argued, citing studies showing that people drive more carefully – and more slowly – on roads with less or no lighting at night.
Over the last 15 years, biologists, doctors, non-governmental organizations and even UNESCO have joined the fight against light pollution by detailing negative impacts to health and well being – for humans and other animals.
In 2012, the American Medical Association (AMA) concluded that exposure to “excessive” night light “can disrupt sleep and exacerbate sleep disorders.”
And it called for more research into possible links to cancer, obesity, diabetes and depression.
Last year, the AMA raised another red flag, this time about light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs.
Local governments in wealthy countries are racing to replace existing streetlights with LEDs, which consume less energy and last longer.
In the United States, fully 10 percent of public lighting has already switched over to LED.
That is good news for the fight against global warming, cutting on fossil-fuel burning for electricity, but it may be bad news for health, the AMA cautioned.
“Some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting,” AMA board member Maya Babu said in a statement.
Not only do the bluish, high-intensity lights create a view-obscuring glare, they have “five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps,” the AMA concluded.
The new technology also obscured our view on the night sky even more than traditional city lighting.
“LEDs could double or triple the luminosity of the sky” – which means the stars get lost against the background, said the authors of a 2016 world atlas of night sky brightness.
Bit by bit, citizens are starting to push back.
A petition circulating in Madrid is calling for a scientific study on the safety and health impacts of LED lighting.
In the Canadian cities of Quebec and Montreal, along with Phoenix in Arizona, public pressure has already pushed city officials to install “yellow” LEDs, which are thought to be less disturbing.
WITH A REPORT FROM PNA