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Better to light a candle than curse the crisis - and do nothing

LISA Chen has bought 24 little white "floating" candles for her home dinner party with close friends this Saturday. They plan to switch off the lights at 8:30pm after dinner, light the candles and tell stories.

Chen's lights-off party will be one of perhaps millions around the world as part of the third global "Earth Hour" at 8:30pm local time around the world.

At the same time, the lights will go off in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, in many buildings in Lujiazui and throughout the city.

In Shanghai, lights-out is more of a symbol than a saving, since electricity is supplied whether it's used or not - it can't be stored. And electricity for lighting is a small percentage of electricity used.

Earth Hour is an annual event held on the last Saturday in March to raise awareness of the urgent need to combat global warming.

Organizers urge households, businesses and governments to turn off lights and non-essential electricity.

Shanghai Power Co supports the lights-out symbolism, but warns that turning big appliances off and on at the same time can disrupt the power supply; the power may not meet the surge in demand.

Power supply in China is based on average usage and the power will be sent regardless of whether lights are off. The electricity cannot be stored and saved.

So, it's a great symbol.

Worldwide, about three quarters of the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels that emit carbon, pollute the air and contribute greatly to climate change.

Around 78 percent of China's energy is generated by burning fossil fuels.

Earth Hour was started by the World Wildlife Fund Australia (WWF) in 2007 and went global in 2008. This one will be the biggest yet.

Organizers cast this as a global election: Switching your lights off is a vote for the Earth, leaving them on is a vote for global warming.

WWF aims for a target of 1 billion votes across more than 1,000 cities, and the results of the balloting will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

This meeting will shape government policies to fight global warming and replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

Chen, a 25-year-old accountant, decided to join Earth Hour when she saw a poster on a bus.

She did research on the Internet, passed word to her friends through e-mail and invited a few to her lights-off party.

"Sure, I know that one hour of lights off won't save much energy, but at least I can show my stand in the battle against global warming," says Chen.

Earth Hour targets have already been exceeded.

By March 19, 80 countries and regions, 1,760 cities, towns or municipalities, 5,259 organizations, 7,382 schools, 18,160 businesses and countless individuals have signed on to the Earth Hour Website to pledge their support.

Numbers are going up.

"Earth Hour is an opportunity for the global community to speak in one voice on the issue of climate change, while at the same time coming together in celebration of the one thing every single person on the planet has in common -°? the planet," says Andy Ridley, executive director of Earth Hour.

Hong Kong and Baoding City in Hebei Province have officially signed on in China, and nationwide countless individuals, business, organizations and communities have promised to vote by turning off their lights.

Standard Chartered Bank (China) has directed 54 branches in 17 cities to turn off their lights. The bank is passing the word to staff, customers, stakeholders and others through its Website, eCards, e-mails and newsletters.

A prize will be awarded to the employee with the most creative and fun lights-out party.

The 28-story Standard Chartered Tower in Pudong, the bank's headquarters, will go dark on Earth Hour.

CEO Katherine Tsang says the bank wants to help raise awareness about shifting to a low-carbon economy.

Other dazzling structures of the Shanghai skyline will go dark, including Super Brand Mall, Shanghai Times Square and the Ascott Pudong hotel.

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai was the first school in China to sign on to Earth Hour last year when most people were unfamiliar with the event with a Website only in English.

Today the Website is in Chinese and other languages.

Students began to prepare two months ago. They have painted posters, come up with slogans in both English and Chinese and told everyone they know to sign on. And they're telling people they don't know, by putting up posters in residential communities.

Some may charter a bus to spread the word in the city's far-flung suburbs, according to English teacher Daniel D'Andrea who is in charge of the Ecology Action Team. The team undertakes eco-friendly activities after school.

Last year D'Andrea and his wife were dining out at a restaurant. He gave a speech about Earth Hour and the owner agreed to turn off the lights and light candles at every table.

"It was an amazing night with nobody complaining," says D'Andrea. "My students and I remind people of the small things they can do to make a change. No one can save the Earth but as long as everyone does their part, we can make a difference."

How to spend Earth Hour?

One hour of community darkness can be fun and creative. You can join your community and together watch some of the city lights go dark, or host a lights-out party at your own home.

"There are no hard and fast rules surrounding participation in Earth Hour. We only ask that you flick that switch and have fun doing whatever you choose to do during that time," says Andy Ridley, executive director of Earth Hour.

Families with young children may wish to turn their lights off earlier - their "vote" still counts, if they have registered on Earth Hour Website.

Why not ...

? Attend an Earth Hour event or organize your own street party with neighbors.

? Gather family and friends for a picnic in a park and look at the stars.

? Dine by candlelight.

? Organize a treasure hunt in the dark.

? Take the dog for a walk.

? Luxuriate in a bath with candles placed about.

? Share a romantic night with your lover.

? Sit in the dark and share stories.

? Take photos or video of and upload them. Try the Earth Hour Website (

Earth Hour 2008

In its global debut, 35 cities on seven continents took part as official flagship cities. Another 400 cities took part and turned out the lights in landmarks.

Non-essential lights went out in the Empire State Building (New York City), Sears Tower (Chicago), Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco), Bank of America Plaza (Atlanta, Georgia), Sydney Opera House (Australia), Wat Arun Buddhist Temple (Bangkok, Thailand), the Colosseum (Rome), Royal Castle (Stockholm, Sweden), London City Hall, Space Needle (Seattle) and the CN Tower (Toronto, Canada).

The official Website for the event,, received over 6.7 million unique visitors in the week leading up to Earth Hour. Other Websites took part and Google's homepage went "dark" on the hour.

According to a Zogby International online survey, an estimated 50 million people around the world participated in the Earth Hour 2008.

The survey showed a 4-percentage increase in awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, compared with that before the event.

Energy saved in 2008

Toronto saved 900 megawatt-hours, an 8.7-percent saving compared with a typical March Saturday night.

Ireland had a 1.5-percent reduction in energy use for the evening.

Between 6:30pm and 9:30pm, there was a reduction of 50 megawatts, saving 150 megawatt-hours, or around 6 tons of carbon dioxide.

In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, several landmarks went dark and some street lighting was dimmed by 50 percent. The power authority reported savings of 100 megawatt-hours, a 2.4-percent reduction in demand compared with usage before lights-out.

The best result was from Christchurch, New Zealand, reporting a drop of 13 percent in demand.

Melbourne, Australia, saved 10.1 percent of electricity.

Sydney, which participated in both 2007 and 2008, cut consumption by 8.4 percent in 2008, lower than 10.2 percent in 2007, the kickoff year.

Pull the switch °?- but be careful

The Shanghai Power Co says lights-out is a good idea, but urges everyone to be mindful of the power grid and not turn off big energy-drawing appliances at the same time, then turn them on again.

Power delivery could be disrupted if there's a huge drop and then a surge in demand for electricity, says George Wang in the company's press center.

It takes at least an hour for a powered-off generators to start up again.

In fact, a sudden drop in electricity demand won't result in energy saving, at least in China, says Wang.

Power plants produce and send electricity to a city according to the average energy consumption there. An unexpected sudden drop in consumption won't change the amount of electricity sent by the plant and the extra power will be wasted - it cannot be stored, says Wang.

Even though the plant has been informed in advance and will reduce energy production, the energy saved is minimal.

A sudden surge in demand that cannot be met immediately by the plant may disrupt power supply.

Private lighting doesn't represent a big proportion of electricity consumption in the city. The energy gobblers are big TVs, heaters, air conditioners, computers and electronics.

"Saving energy is not a one-hour-a-year show." says Wang. "We can switch off light together to take a stand, but preventing energy waste every day can make much more significant difference."

Earth Hour Website:


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