Lights out for Earth Hour

For one hour Saturday evening, Burbank will be dark. As part of Earth Hour 2008, the city will shut off its nonessential and nonemergency lights from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. to raise awareness about the warming of the planet, partly due to carbon dioxide emissions.

“This event is about increasing awareness about climate change,” said Dan Forfman, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Foundation that is organizing the event.

More than 200 cities in 35 countries around the world plan to participate in the program, including Burbank, where city officials pushed for local businesses and residents to take part in the program, Burbank spokesman Michael McManus said.

The city plans to keep all street lights and other essential lighting running, but will shut off some lights at City Hall and Burbank Water and Power for the one-hour program, said the utility’s spokeswoman Joanne Fletcher.

“We’ll turn off office lights and other nonessential lighting,” she said. “Those lights should be off anyway, but we have janitors working during that time and we’re not going to ask them not to work for an hour. We want to participate symbolically but we need to be reasonable.”

Earth Hour began in 2007 when the wildlife foundation asked residents, businesses and local municipalities in Sydney, Australia, to shut off all nonessential lights for one hour.

More than 2 million Australians participated in the inaugural program last year and carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 10.2%, the equivalent of taking 48 cars off the road, Forfman said.

This year, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco are among the 35 American cities that plan to participate.

In San Francisco, officials plan to turn off decorative, nonessential lights on the Golden Gate Bridge and in Chicago, nonessential exterior lighting will be switched off for the one-hour period.

Burbank is also asking local businesses to participate in the program, which officials hope will demonstrate the connection between energy usage and climate change.

Providence St. Joseph Medical Center will ask employees to turn off computers and other nonessential lighting in patient-free areas before they leave on Friday and formed a Go Green Team at the hospital to look at various ways to save energy, spokesman Dan Boyle said.

“Ensuring that we are using renewable resources well is a very strong value here,” he said. “This is just one thing we’re trying to do.”

Woodbury University is also participating in the program, though its effect might be minimal, said professor E.B. Gendel, an economics professor who is spearheading the effort on campus.

“We don’t have a tower and campus is mostly closed on Saturday, but we will be making sure that all nonessential lights are turned off, though I would hope they would be turned off anyway,” he said.

For Gendel, Earth Hour is an opportunity for his students and his school to affect major change on a minor level.

“This is the start of something, not the end,” Gendel said. “We’ve been getting the word out to students and they are doing more than just lip service. That generation is empowered. This program certainly raises awareness. You can take individual action and not just for one hour on one Saturday night. Observe your life, observe your behavior and see what else you can do. If you combine individual action, it can become global.

While the program has achieved some substantive changes in reducing carbon emissions, Earth Hour’s real goal is symbolic, Forfman said.

“The more energy we use, the more CO2 we put in the air, which increases the temperature on the planet,” he said. “Scientists are trying to put together a link to energy use and climate change, but that’s not what this is about. Earth Hour is a completely symbolic gesture. We need to make these kinds of changes every day.”

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