At 8.30 pm local time, residents of the Chatham Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean turned off light switches and kicked off the global Earth Hour rallying cry for decisive action on climate change from world leaders this year.
he call, endorsed earlier today by more than 3929 cities, towns and municipalities in 88 countries across 25 time zones, is expected to involve hundreds of millions of people turning off lights for an hour in what has been billed “a vote for earth”.
Final figures for participation will have to await audit and research in coming weeks, but past experience and the rate at which new towns and cities suggests that many more will take part than are officially registered.
Chatham Island, with a population of about 600 living 800 km east of and in a different time zone to New Zealand’s main islands, is home to 20 percent of New Zealand’s threatened bird species, including the Chatham Island albatross. Scientists are concerned that isolated albatross populations may reduce their breeding rates as climate change and shifting weather fronts stretch the distances between their breeding and feeding grounds.
When Chatham residents wake up on Sunday morning their time, the Earth Hour effort will be in full force in Europe. Some 23 hours and 45 minutes after the first vote for climate action with a light switch was registered on Chatham Island, residents of Honolulu, Hawaii will be casting their votes against climate change.
First global landmarks turn off in New Zealand
As Earth Hour commenced, some 996 global landmarks from mountains to historic buildings and modern architectural landmarks had officially registered to participate in the event. They include many of the world’s best loved and most recognised emblems including the Pyramids, the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower, the dome of St Peters in the Vatican, Table Mountain in South Africa and the Empire State Building.
In New Zealand, the first landmarks switched off, with photographers and film crews standing by to record the moment as the floodlights went off on the Auckland Sky tower, the Parliament buildings in Wellington and Christchurch Cathedral.
In Hamilton, more than 50,000 attended a live concert while in Christchurch, a newlywed couple held their first dance and wedding breakfast in the dark – all to celebrate Earth Hour, groom James Harrison told 3News television.
Overall, 44 cities, towns and regions in New Zealand took part.
“Tonight, New Zealand voted Earth and began in spectacular fashion the world’s biggest participation event ever,” said WWF New Zealand Executive Director Chris Howe.
“To all those who supported Earth Hour, and all those who took part, WWF thanks you. It could not have happened without you.”
Electricity consumption dropped up to eight per cent in some locations according to utility Transpower.
Islands show support in the Pacific
Fiji made the headlines last Earth Hour, when isolated Visoqo Village celebrated Earth Hour by turning their light switches on . . . for the first time. In the previous week, residents had busied themselves unpacking solar panels and installing them to provide the village’s first and wholly renewable energy based electricity supply.
This year, the entire Fijian island of Taunovo faded into darkness while in capital, Suva, crowds gathered at Fiji’s largest shopping center in Suva where an “island-style” celebration was held, replete with people wearing bula shirts and playing guitars.
Pacific Island nations have emerged as strong campaigners for action on climate change globally, focussing on the threat rising sea and storm surge levels will have on communities scarce metres above the sea. Also threatened by warming waters are the fringing corals that are vital to food supplies and economic life in island communities and also serve as a buffer against tropical storms.
Climate threatened Australia makes strongest statement yet
Sydney, Australia, where the Earth Hour phenomenon started just two years ago, was expected to record among the highest participation rates on the planet among its population of over 4 million.
Crowds in the hundreds watched as its most recognisable landmarks, the Sydney Opera House and “the hanger”, Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge, turned their lights off promptly as Earth Hour commenced. The two Sydney icons face each other across Circular Quay, the bay in one of the world’s greatest natural harbours where
Around Australia, 309 places from 46 cities to small remote outback communities such as Banana Shire had registered to take part in Earth Hour. Climate change impacts in the world’s driest continent are expected to be severe, with longer and more severe droughts and more frequent tropical storms..
Many Australian cities have spent extended periods under severe water restrictions and the risks of events such as bushfires have increased markedly. The country, one of the world’s largest coal exporters, joined the Kyoto Protocol on climate change recently.
WWF-Australia is working to have the country take a leading stance for effective climate action globally when the world meets to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.
In Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, landmarks that faded into darkness for Earth Hour included historic Flinders Street Station and more modern attractions such as Federation Square, where a pedal-powered concert was scheduled, the Eureka Towers Skydeck and the Rialto Towers.
In Brisbane, the Castlemaine Perkins brewery turned off the famous neon lights of its XXXX Man, while in national capital, Canberra, all lights except security lighting were blacked out at the High Court of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, and Parliament House.
Tourist attractions turning off around the country included the Big Banana, the Big Merino, the Big Wool Bales, the Big Pineapple, the Big Crab, the big Ned Kelly, the Big Shell, the Big Ned Kelly, the Big Rocking Horse, the Big Gumboat, the Big DNA Tower and the Big Penguin.
“Against a backdrop of the global economic crisis and the many other challenges that face our planet, Earth Hour has put climate change where it needs to be – top of mind for many millions of people around the world.”