World switches off for Earth Hour

* Australian city’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge the first among an estimated 7,000 cities and towns from New Zealand to New York to dim their lights for 60 minutes

SINGAPORE: Lights went off in thousands of cities and towns across the world on Saturday for the annual Earth Hour campaign, which is aiming to raise money via the Internet for local environmental projects.
The Singapore-based campaign by conservation group WWF was boosted by Hollywood star power, with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx leading ceremonies at the city-state’s Marina Bay district.
Comic-book hero Spider-Man is this year’s ‘ambassador’ for Earth Hour in which 150 countries are taking part, according to organisers. The event was launched in Sydney in 2007. The Australian city’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge were among the first landmarks around the world to dim their lights for 60 minutes during Saturday’s event.
An estimated 7,000 cities and towns from New Zealand to New York took part.
Hong Kong’s stunning waterfront skyline was unrecognisable on Saturday evening, with the city’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Centre, stripped of the vast light show usually wrapped around its 118 storeys.
Blazing neon signs advertising some of the world’s largest brands were shut off, leaving the view of the heavily vertical southern Chinese city peppered only with tiny lights from buildings’ interiors.
In the Indian capital of New Delhi, lights were turned off at major landmarks, including the India Gate.
Earth Hour partnered with payments giant PayPal to allow donors to contribute to specific projects from Russia and India to Canada and Indonesia, using Asian fundraising site Crowdonomic.
Earth Hour chief executive Andy Ridley said before the lights went off in Singapore that the event had moved beyond symbolism to concrete action. “If you want to get real social change you need to have symbolism,” he told AFP.  “We are seeing some really big outcomes.”
But it has drawn criticism, including from Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg who argues it does little for the real problem of global warming and diverts resources from other problems. “This celebration of darkness sends the wrong message, Lomborg said in a statement this week. “While more than a billion people across the globe make a symbol of foregoing non-essential electrical power for one hour a year, another 1.3 billion people across the developing world will continue to live without electricity as they do every other night of the year.”
Projects under the “Earth Hour Blue” crowdfunding scheme - which aim to raise more than $650,000 in total - include a turtle centre in Italy and funding for forest rangers in Indonesia. Other projects include a 24,000-dollar effort in the Philippines to bring fibreglass boat technology to coastal communities affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November last year.  In Nepal, $100,000 is being sought for a programme called “A Flame Called Hope” to provide access to biogas energy for 150 households in the Terai region, reducing the need for wood as fuel and helping protect the habitat of endangered wildlife, according to the Earth Hour website.
“Spider-Man 2” star Garfield told journalists that he was a personal supporter of the Nepal project.
“What they are doing is turning waste into energy, it’s like the cycle of life right there, if only everyone knew how simple it was,” he said.
Earth Hour will see other landmarks including the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow switch off their lights for an hour. “The thing about Earth Hour is that is reminds people that it needs to be a global response,” said Anna Rose, national Earth Hour manager for Australia, the country in which the event began in 2007.
“It’s quite beautiful when people turn off their lights in Earth Hour to know that they are joining with people in 154 countries.”
Australians were this year focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, the huge coral structure off Queensland which conservationists fear will be irreversibly damaged by climate change without urgent action.
The Earth Hour movement will see world landmarks including the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Kremlin switch off their lights for 60 minutes at 8:30 pm local time on Saturday. Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, but the idea quickly spread around the world and hundreds of millions of people are estimated to have turned their lights off for the event last year. Rose said it was obvious that switching lights off for one hour would not solve the world’s environmental problems, but she said the event had raised awareness about climate change in the community. “It’s important as a moment in which Australians can have this conversation about climate change,” she said. 

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