Earth Hour from across Canada


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Montréal - Marc Stamos

The day after Earth Hour, I caught a clip on CBC radio, explaining that one reporter went into a Café in Toronto, which had the lights off, and patrons loved it.

In Calgary, another reporter went into a sports bar with lights ablaze.

The owner of the bar was quoted as saying, “Turn off the lights today? Not a chance. Calgary is playing for first place, and they’re playing Edmonton. If it was tomorrow, maybe.”

My first thought was that people are happy to “do the right thing” as long as it’s convenient, or doesn’t interfere with their short term financial interests. I concluded this musing by deciding that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

When Mark Tovey called me on Saturday evening to say that he found himself inspired to get WorldChangers from coast to coast to take pictures of Earth Hour in their city, I had to confess to him that I had completely forgotten about Earth Hour, and had dinner plans at 7:30 PM.

To be completely honest, I also hesitated before confirming with Mark because it would be slightly inconvenient to alter my plans at the last minute. But because of my respect for Mark, I decided to give it a go. Sure enough, my dinner-mates were easily convinced—and, in fact teased me that "their eco-friend” totally dropped the ball on this one.
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With a new sense of purpose to our night, we decided that it would be cool to see the whole city during Earth Hour, from the top of Mount Royal. And, still trying to have our cake and eat it, we advanced our dinner plans by one hour (to 8:30 PM). The new plan was to grab a sandwich at Santropol prior to 8 PM, then walk up the mountain.

Dinner took longer than anticipated, so we finished our meal by candle-light. This was a great touch, and the irony of it made the four of us smile.

As we were walking out the door of Santropol, a CTV reporter and cameraman were walking in—to interview the Santropol staff.

I smiled because I realized this would be a great photo-op to capture Earth Hour in Montréal! It turns out that the CTV people were relieved to see Santropol glowing with candles, because they were having trouble finding a business that had turned off their lights. CTV%202.jpg

We confirmed their observation for ourselves as we walked around downtown Montréal for the remaining 37 minutes of Earth Hour. Had I not known it was a special hour, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the city being much darker. That said (because I’ve been a little jaded lately), a surprising number of lights were actually off if you looked closely, and my friends and I were happy to have taken part in this global event.

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Adventurous friends, Darren, Leslie, and Jeana

So what’s the key lesson I take from Earth Hour 2008? Before pointing the finger at others, sometimes we all have to look in the mirror.

Oh, by the way, when Mark called me on my cell phone to enlist my support, I was standing on a ladder installing a light fixture.

Halifax - Jon Booren

I was fortunate enough to spend my Earth Hour experience with a friend in Halifax. We managed to climb up on the roof of his apartment building to potentially capture some great before and after shots. Sadly, the effect wasn't what I hoped. On the dark side (read:bright side), it seemed that many Haligonian office dwellers had already turned off their lights long before Earth Hour.

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(This photo was taken just before Earth Hour)

At 8pm, we did notice a number of offices and apartments turning off their lights, in some cases complete floors went dark. But with so many street lights, those differences were almost unnoticeable. Amy Smart of The Chronicle Herald, reported that Nova Scotia power registered an eight megawatt reduction across the province, and Halifax City Hall and Grand Parade did turn off their lights for the hour.

Vancouver - Peter ter Weeme

In Vancouver, typically one of Canada’s most environmentally progressive cities, Earth Hour was a modest affair on Saturday night. Even though a recent poll suggested that 70% of Canadians had pledged to participate, throughout Vancouver’s lively downtown core, buildings were lit up like any other night. Even at the regional headquarters of Environment Canada, lights burned brightly.

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Fortunately, there were some exceptions: BC Hydro’s and Vancity’s office towers loomed as dark sentinels while a few restaurants around the city decided to use the opportunity to create a cozy candlelit atmosphere for their patrons. The Lions Gate bridge, Vancouver’s landmark bridge, was also uncharacteristically dark, punctuated only by red safety lights at the top of its support towers. Similarly, some of the while sails on Canada Place, Vancouver’s convention centre, were shut off in honour of Earth Hour.

Oakville - Hassan Masum

Walking around my residential Toronto-area neighborhood, less than a third of the usual number of house lights were on. Chatted with a few couples and families out strolling, seeing what others were doing; wondered how many participating might be 'doing since others were seeing'. Back at home, sat around a candle and talked—one of
thousands of families swapping stories in a shared quiet pause.

Ottawa - Mark Tovey

As I walked past Sparks Street on my way to the Parliament buildings, there was a woman standing, exhorting passers-by: "Don't you think they ought to turn out more of the lights?" Sparks Street was lit up as usual, as were the high-rise buildings that characterize Ottawa's core.


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Walking up towards the Parliament buildings was another experience. Apart from the Canadian flag at the top of the Peace Tower, the rest of the Parliament buildings were minimally lit, making them hard to see in the darkness, and harder to photograph. Gathered by the flame, a small group of Ottawans held candles. When I arrived, one of them offered me one. We all stood in the chill, not-quite-spring of the Ottawa evening, contemplating the dimmed centre block, and chatting with the other spectators. At 9PM, on cue, the lights of parliament gradually faded up again, and the crowd gradually dispersed, seeking the warmth of the D'arcy McGee. Simple. Low-key. Endearingly Canadian. Despite the bright-lit sentinels of indifference behind us, it made me smile.

Toronto - Jordy Gold

Four hundred and twenty minutes before Earth Hour was to begin, Peter Robinson, the former CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the new CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, spoke in downtown Toronto at Digifest, all about catastrophe, trauma, and possibility. Peter hammered home the reasons why we need to shift our society to greater sustainability. Information, he stressed, is not enough. Information is a major prerequisite to changing behaviour, but on its own, is not nearly sufficient. Robinson asked the audience, “after seeing Al Gore’s movie, how many of you went home and got rid of your car?” According to Robinson, one of the keys is to build as many relationships and networks as possible, ones that demonstrate, or highlight, greener behaviour. Being a part of such a network is important. We do, he said, what we see.

At 7:45 PM, I found myself further uptown, and took to my bike in a hurry. While I did not know exactly what to expect, I wanted to get down to City Hall as fast as I could, to be there for the 8 PM kick-off to the Earth Hour concert. As the minutes ticked by, and I flew down Bay Street, I realized there was still a whole lot of sunshine in the sky. Normally, I would be thrilled at the prospect of sunshine at 8 PM on a Saturday night, coming out of a long winter. But this was not meant to be such a night. I was hoping to drive into a darkness dusted with stars seldom seen in our downtown metropolis.

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I made fantastic time, and arrived at the jammed square just after 8:03 PM. The music, including Nelly Furtado and others, had already begun. It turned out to be a cold, crisp night, and a friend and I found relief in the warmth of the crowd, packed in towards the front of the stage. The show, which lasted, at the most, 50 minutes, was average, and the lights—still on for many buildings south of City Hall—burned, along with some frustration on my part. All that said, it was fantastic to see so many people come together over such an important cause. World Wildlife Fund, who helped spearhead the event, pushed their new campaign, called the Good Life, and the paper reported that we achieved an 8.7% reduction in electricity use compared to a similar evening. My parents even had friends over for dinner by candlelight.

I wonder how much we accomplished. I worry that too many will think that in coming out to an event like this, they have done their part, even when there is obviously so much left to be done. Any significant change will require a holistic policy framework, laden with price signals, to empower and encourage us to do the right thing. I wish that we could power down like this at least once a month. After the blackout of 2003, all I heard from people were stories of how much they enjoyed it.

As Peter Robinson said, we need to get building. Join as many networks tied to these issues as you can and forge as many relationships where you see better behaviour taking place. If you’re feeling really inspired, don’t just enter these relationships being the change you want to see; be the change you want mimicked in the end. You just might take us all in a whole new direction.


Front page photo: Hassan Masum
Inside photos: Worldchanging Contributors
Nathan Phillips Square - Toronto: Copyright: WWF-Canada/Ken Mak

Comments

Leaving aside the debate about the value of eco-gimmicks like l'heure de terre, you have to be impressed, or at least surprised, by the level of participation.

Check out the drop in electricity demand in these cities between 8-9 pm last Saturday:

Christchurch, NZ 13.1%
Canberra, Aus 11.4%
Melbourne, Aus 10.1%
Toronto 8.7% (from typical for that time)
Syndey, Aus 8.4%
North Vancouver 7.0%
Port Coquitlam, BC 6.7%
London, Ont 5.9%
Ottawa 4.0%
Vancouver 3.4%

Seems that parts of the Commonwealth really took this initiative to heart.

Posted by: Simon Donner on April 9, 2008 8:14 PM

Everybody was out in the streets, and you could see candles burning in homes with no lights on. Very cool. That night I went to an "Earth Hour jam" where everybody brought a guitars, shakers, conga drums, accordions, slide whistles etc... and we played music for hours in a room together. Wine, songs, friends, candles... what else do we really need?

Posted by: Lucas Sargent on April 10, 2008 10:06 PM