Lights out checks in
Turning out a light is a simple way to save a electricity. This Saturday evening, from 8:30 to 9:30, hundreds of millions of people around the world will participate in the third International Earth Hour by turning out their lights. Earth Hour is an initiative organized by the World Wildlife Fund as a way to raise awareness about energy conservation. It began in Sydney, Australia in 2007. The following year it spread overseas, including to Martha's Vineyard.
"We were the only part of the U.S. doing it in 2008," says Marnie Stanton, Almanac Coordinator at the Vineyard Conservation Society. She spread the word by going door to door around the Island, telling people about Earth Hour. Last year, the Steamship Authority, Martha's Vineyard Hospital, and all of the Island's municipalities participated by turning off non-essential lights and, in some cases, computers. NStar tracked the difference in wattage use before and during that hour, and Ms. Stanton says that it was substantial.
Climate change awareness and energy conservation aren't the only reasons to unplug and switch off, though. It's may be a way to re-connect with the people around us.
Four months ago, one family in Oak Bluffs decided to have their own weekly lights out night, without even thinking about Earth Hour. Corinna Black, who teaches reading at the Oak Bluffs School, Jason Brescia, who does roofing, and their four-year old son, Walker, live in a small house built in the 1890s.
"One night we were talking about how we love it when the power goes out and we have to find the candles," says Ms. Black recalls. "We go camping for vacations and that's pretty much our idea of fun. We knew that we would never do it unless we made it a set time." So they started to observe their own Lights Out Night every Monday. When they return home for the evening, they simply don't turn anything on. The refrigerator is still running, the water heater stays on, but the lights, computers, and TV stay off until Tuesday morning.
"Walker loves it," Ms. Black says. "He asks for it every day. He says, 'Is tonight Lights Out Night?'" She says that it's a very simple thing to do. "It's not like we have to plan a batch of stuff. We sit at the dinner table longer because we're not rushing off to do anything, and you can't see how messy the house is. We don't watch much TV, but it's great to know that it's not even a discussion that night. Sometimes we bring out board games."
"One Monday, there was a windstorm and the power went out," Ms. Black says. "We had no idea it had happened until a neighbor came by to see if we had electricity."
Other than that chance meeting, they don't talk about it much with their friends. It's a bit like camping, or visiting Ms. Black's parents' camp in Maine, which has no electricity, and had no running water until very recently. "It's all part of our idea of what's fun," she says.
Jean Dupon of Le Grenier restaurant in Vineyard Haven also sees a positive side to power outages. "Those were some of the most romantic times we had at the restaurant," he says. "It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but in the past, we used to have four or five power outages in a summer sometimes. No lights, no music. You could see people just being with people, hugging each other."
Last year, Le Grenier lit the dining room with candles for Earth Hour. "Dinner by candlelight, that will be beautiful," Mr. Dupon says. "It sets a mood. I did it last year, and I will do it again."
Meanwhile, on Saturday from 8 to 9 pm, there will be a night walk at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary to celebrate the darkness. "Our walk is going to focus on wildlife at night," Suzan Bellincampi, director of Felix Neck, explained. "We hope to create community around the idea of shutting out the light, and encourage people to share the evening with others. Some of the wildlife we hope to see are barn owls and woodcocks. It's still too early in the year for bats, but pinkletinks have been reported already. We're hoping for a magical evening under the moonlight, coming together to save energy. There's power in numbers."
Earth Hour's international scope and symbolic power make it a great way to raise consciousness about conserving energy. "All these iconic places, like the Eiffel Tower, have turned their lights out," says Ms. Stanton.
"The message is that conservation is a tremendously powerful tool for society addressing the impacts of global climate change," adds Brendan O'Neill, executive director of VCS. "Even as we look for sustainable sources of energy, we each play an important role in conservation."