Earth Hour – the international ‘turn off’

March 28, 2009 will make it into history as the most massive, simultaneous energy-saving action in the history of humanity and will also make it into the Guinness Record Book.

It is hoped that this largest flash mob ever will draw attention to the problems of global warming.

“Of course, Earth Hour does not solve all environmental problems we have but it has great symbolic sense, it’s a symbol of environmental awareness,” according to Vladimir Slivyak from the Moscow-based Eco-Defense foundation.

Hopes for new weather pact

Earth Hour dates back to 2007 when 2.2 million people in Sydney turned off their lights for just one hour. What started as a one-city event has become a global movement –a year later an estimated 50 million people were involved.

“The purpose of Earth Hour is to raise awareness all over the world about climate change, especially before the UN meeting in Copenhagen this December, when the countries are expected to agree on a new international weather pact that will replace the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012,” said Per Carlsen, Ambassador of Denmark.

Almost 150 countries have ratified the Kyoto protocol – the only international treaty on curbing the air pollution blamed for global warming. Critics say the treaty has failed since the world's top polluter – the US – has refused to sign it.

However, with lots of US cities participating in WWF's Earth Hour, there is hope that America's new administration will reconsider its position.

”State leaders have to realize that people of all countries in the world, regardless of their economic development or location, do not want the catastrophic change in our climate that is inevitable if no urgent measures are taken now,” said Igor Chestik of WWF Russia.

Ivan Blokov from Russia’s Greenpeace agrees: “The Earth Hour cannot change the situation in the world,” he says “but it can explain to governments and officials in this country that people want change.” 

Meanwhile, scientists predict that warmer temperatures will lead to severe droughts and floods.

They say that the Arctic might have its first ice-free summer within a decade or two, and sea levels will go up, inundating continents. Many animals will not be able to adapt and will die, while plants and trees will fail to spread quickly enough and will disappear.

Russia participates

This year, Russia has officially joined Earth Hour for the first time. On Saturday, Moscow was plunged into darkness for 60 minutes. The start of the event was conducted by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who switched off the circuit breaker of the Moscow government building.

Illumination was halted in over 20 of the largest structures in Moscow, including the Luzhniki stadium, the television tower and two of seven high-rises, as they were disconnected from power.

In St. Petersburg the action was supported by a number of private companies. In several city hotels light was also switched off, leaving only emergency lighting operating.

Natasha Patoka is one of the participants. In her everyday life, she tries to be environmentally friendly, saving energy whenever possible.

”I come from a rather polluted town with serious environmental problems,” she said. “There were so many hospitals and cemeteries there. I always wanted to do something to make my town cleaner, to make children healthier, and to make people suffer less. I've started with myself.”