Syd­ney Dims Sky­line to Shed Light on Global Warm­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Rohan Sul­li­van

SYD­NEY, March 31 — The Syd­ney Opera House, dozens of sky­scrapers and count­less homes switched off their lights Satur­day evening along with many other sites in Aus­tralia’s largest city to reg­is­ter con­cern about global warm­ing.

The arch of Syd­ney’s other iconic struc­ture, the Har­bor Bridge, was also blacked out in the city of 4 mil­lion as part of the hour-long ges­ture, which or­ga­niz­ers said they hoped would be adopted as an an­nual event around the world.

Mayor Clover Moore, whose of­fi­cials shut down all nonessen­tial lights on city-owned build­ings, said Syd­ney was “ask­ing peo­ple to think about what ac­tion they can take to fight global warm­ing.”

Restau­rants through­out the city held can­dlelit din­ners, and fam­i­lies gath­ered in pub­lic places to take part in a count­down to lights out, send­ing up a cheer as lights started blink­ing off at 7:30 p.m.

Build­ings went dark one by one. Some floors in city sky­scrapers re­mained lit, and se­cu­rity and street lights, as well as those at com­mer­cial port op­er­a­tions and at a sports sta­dium, stayed on.

“It’s an hour of ac­tive, thought­ful dark­ness, a cel­e­bra­tion of our awak­en­ing to cli­mate-change ac­tion,” said Os­car-win­ner Cate Blanchett, who at­tended a har­bor­side func­tion to watch the event.

While down­town was sig­nif­i­cantly darker than nor­mal, television footage taken from he­li­copters re­vealed that the city’s patch­work of mil­lions of tiny lights had thinned, not dis­ap­peared.

“We were ex­pect­ing a big dif­fer­ence straight away, but it was just a lit­tle bit,” said Sonja Schollen, who took sons Harry and James to a park to watch the sky­line, join­ing dozens of other fam­i­lies. Chil- dren waved glow sticks and sparklers while par­ents pic­nicked and sipped wine.

“It was quite sweet, ac­tu­ally, be­cause the kids started chant­ing, ‘Turn them out, turn them out.’ You can see now the city’s a bit dim­mer,” she said to­ward the end of the hour.

Or­ga­niz­ers said they hoped Satur­day’s event — which about 2,000 busi­nesses and more than 60,000 in­di­vid­u­als signed up for on­line — would get peo­ple to think about reg­u­larly switch­ing off nonessen­tial lights, pow­er­ing down com­put­ers and tak­ing other sim­ple mea­sures they say could cut Syd­ney’s green­house gas emis­sions by 5 per­cent this year.

The amount of power saved by the event was not im­me­di­ately known. But Greg Bourne, chief ex­ec­u­tive of World Wildlife Fund Aus­tralia and one of the ar­chi­tects of the event, said Syd­ney’s power sup­plier, En­ergy Aus­tralia, had es­ti­mated it could be 5 per­cent of nor­mal us­age on a night of sim­i­lar con­di­tions.

“It’s ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic, there’s a mood of en­thu­si­asm and hope­ful­ness and ac­tion,” Bourne said. “I have never seen Syd­ney’s sky­line look so dark.”

Aus­tralia, a na­tion of about 21 mil­lion peo­ple, is ranked as the world’s worst green­house gas emit­ter per capita, largely be­cause of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power sta­tions.

Global warm­ing has emerged this year as a main­stream po­lit­i­cal is­sue in Aus­tralia, and Prime Min­is­ter John Howard’s gov­ern­ment has an­nounced ini­tia­tives such as the phased with­drawal from sale of en­ergy-in­ef­fi­cient in­can­des­cent bulbs, amid blunt crit­i­cism of his re­fusal to sign the Ky­oto Pro­to­col.

Syd­ney is not the first place to cut the lights for con­ser­va­tion. In Fe­bru­ary, Paris and other parts of France dimmed lights for five min­utes in a ges­ture that also took hold in Rome and Athens.


A photo of Syd­ney at night re­veals clouds, above, as thou­sands of busi­nesses turned off their lights. The photo at top was taken a week be­fore.

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