The floodlit cream shells of the famed Opera House dimmed yesterday as Sydney became the world's first major city to plunge itself into darkness for the second worldwide Earth Hour, a global campaign to highlight the threat of climate change.
From the Great Pyramids to the Acropolis, the London Eye to Taipei 101, nearly 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries planned to join the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-sponsored event, a time zone-by-time zone plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30pm and 9:30pm.
Involvement in the effort has exploded since last year's Earth Hour, which drew participation from 400 cities after Sydney held a solo event in 2007. Organizers initially worried enthusiasm for this year's event would wane with the world's attention focused largely on the global economic crisis, Earth Hour executive director Andy Ridley said.
Strangely enough, it seemed to have the opposite effect, he said.
“Earth Hour has always been a positive campaign; it's always around street parties, not street protests, it's the idea of hope not despair. And I think that's something that's been incredibly important this year because there is so much despair around,” he said. “On the other side of it, there's savings in cutting your power usage and being more sustainable and more efficient.”
In Australia, people attended candlelit speed-dating events and gathered at outdoor concerts as the hour of darkness rolled through the country. Sydney's glittering harbor was bathed in shadows as lights dimmed on the steel arch of the city's iconic Harbor Bridge and the nearby Opera House.
Earlier yesterday, the Chatham Islands, a group of small islands about 800km east of New Zealand, officially began Earth Hour by switching off its diesel generators. Soon after, the lights of Auckland's Sky Tower, the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand, blinked off.
Forty-four New Zealand towns and cities participated in the event, and more than 60,000 people showed up for an Earth Hour-themed hot air balloon festival in the city of Hamilton.
Taipei 101, the world's tallest building, was to lead Taiwanese companies in shutting off lights. Diners in its 85th floor restaurants were to eat by candlelight during the switch-off.
The one-hour shutdown will save 2,770 kilowatt-hours of electricity and around NT$15,000 (US$310) in power costs, said Michael Liu (劉家豪), a company spokesman for Taiwan Financial Center Corp, which owns the building.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva planned to press a button to turn off the lights at Khao San Road, a famous haven for budget travelers in Bangkok that is packed with bars and outdoor cafes.
Lights were to go down at the Grand Palace and other riverside monuments, and businesses along some of the Thai capital's busiest boulevards were also asked to participate, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said in a statement.
China was participating in the campaign for the first time, with Beijing turning off the lights at its Bird's Nest Stadium and Water Cube, the most prominent venues for the Olympics, WWF said.
Shanghai was cutting lights in all government buildings and other structures on its waterfront, while Hong Kong, Baoding, Changchun, Dalian, Nanjing and Guangzhou were also participating, it said.
However, the official WWF Earth Hour Web site appeared to be blocked in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin yesterday afternoon.
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