Sydney: Australia’s largest city will be plunged into darkness for an hour on Saturday in an attempt at a world first blackout to raise awareness of global warming, organisers say.
A successful switch-off could then be copied by major cities around the world in a drive to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change, according to international conservation group WWF.
The lights will go out in landmark headquarters buildings in Sydney’s central business district, on the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and in tens of thousands of suburban homes.
“Earth Hour”, which begins at 7:30 pm (0930 GMT) on 31 March, has been planned for 10 months by WWF in partnership with city authorities, businesses and a major newspaper group.
“We’ve been astounded at the level of support we have got,” WWF Australia communications director Andy Ridley said.
A thousand businesses have signed up, including many of the top blue-chip companies on the Australian stock market and even McDonald’s is going to turn off its “Golden Arches” signs, he said.
“The first commitment is lights off for an hour, and then as we go forward we’re looking to try and set ourselves a target of reducing emissions by 5% over the next year,” he added.
Scientists link dangerous global temperature increase to the greenhouse effect, in which gases emitted by burning fossil fuels to produce energy trap heat in the atmosphere.
Last month Paris conducted a similar campaign, dimming lights for five minutes in the French capital and turning off the lights of the Eiffel Tower.
The only lights deliberately left on will be those connected with public safety, such as streetlights.
Top restaurants have signed up and will serve candlelight dinner, with some meals using local produce rather than ingredients flown or shipped in from abroad.
“We’re not asking people to go and live in a cave and eat cold beans; that can’t be the way we approach the problem of global warming,” Ridley said.
“The idea is there are simple things that are putting emissions up into the air and we can do simple things to start cutting back on them but that doesn’t mean you close your restaurant.”
As for those at home who will be faced with an hour of darkness on a Saturday night, “we hope people will be catching up with their neighbours and having barbecues.
Ridley said that if successful, the Sydney blackout would be a world first.
“I think people have tried it before, but nobody has successfully done it and I don’t think anyone has tried at such a scale it it on the scale we are trying.
“If it’s as successful as we hope, we hope to take it around the world and do this in every major city we can get to join us.”
Australia, already the driest inhabited continent on earth, is expected to be particularly hard hit by global warming and has already claimed to be a world first in fighting climate change.
The government announced last month that traditional incandescent light bulbs would be phased out by 2010 in favour of the more fuel-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.