Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour

I first heard about Earth Hour (http://www.earthhourus.org/) last year, but didn't get around to really checking it out until too late. So this year when someone reminded me of it, I remembered what the concept was. Basically, for a designated hour people were to turn off their lights to...to what? Well, to save that much energy. To see what darkness looked like. To demonstrate a concern for our earth, for our energy addiction. To do something together. To make a statement. To be one voice among millions.

Some very big events were planned--dousing of lights at the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower.

I didn't really even plan anything. After all, at 8:30 I am usually just pulling out of the yard at work, heading home by way of whatever errands could be done at that hour.

Tonight, one errand was to stop by the hardware store to exchange some fluorescent lightbulbs I'd purchased last night that were the wrong size. How ironic! At the designated hour--8:30--I was in a bightly lit store looking at their lightbulb display! But I NOTICED it--the dozens of sample fixtures beaming their light and heat into the already brightly lit room. Did they really need to be on all the time? After all, when I buy a light fixture, what it looks like unlit is just as important as what it looks like when it's on.

Anyhow, I certainly wasn't off to a very good start for Earth Hour.

Next, the Post Office to pick up my mail. The lobby is brightly lit, day and night. Hm. It's pretty deserted when I stop by every night, and probably even more deserted in the wee hours of the morning. Maybe they could use a motion-detector sensor at night? That would help with the trouble of vagrants sleeping in there, as well--if the light were on for very long, police would know someone was hanging out there.

Amazing how our awareness of something we take for granted can be changed just by thinking about an idea. I never before questioned that the light should be on all the time.

I decided when I got home that I would go ahead and do an hour of darkness on the farm, even though I would be an hour late by the time I made the rounds of the entire farm. Better late than never.

First I went through the house. My housemate had left a couple lights on because he knows I don't like walking into a dark house. Almost all my lights are fluorescent, so I don't worry about them being on a lot. I need a lot of light in the winter to keep from being depressed, and I live a pretty low-carbon-footprint lifestyle anyhow, so light is one of my "luxuries."

I turned those off, and put on my head lamp to go out to turn off the barn light.

But there were still so many lights on! I walked around and turned off all the power strips, douwing the lights on the computer, the printer, the phone, the cordless drill charger, the microwave, the power strips themselves. Oops--I'd forgotten to unplug the bread machine on Sheep Shearing Day, and hadn't noticed because I rarely walk into the kitchen in the dark.

Then out to the barn. The light there is on a timer to stay on for a few hours after dusk. That way I'm encouraged to go out and check things after work. Also, if I have work to do in the barn, it means the sluggish flourescent light is all warmed up, in cold weather. A power strip turned off that light, plus the extension cords with lighted plugs and the power strip itself.

Then I noticed the glow of the electric fence charger. I'd meant to turn it off earlier, because the day's ice storm would be weighting down the portable mesh fences and shorting them out. Right now none of the sheep are confined by it, so I unplugged it. I'll recheck the fences after the ice melts, then turn it back on. I keep it on even when it's not really being used because the charge keeps the wildlife from chewing on it.

So finally the barn was dark. The night was really pretty, with light from faraway street lights and security lights glinting off the ice on the trees and fences. The ewes were all contentedly munching on hay that I threw to them, making snug rustling noises in the barn. I brought them all into the barn last night when I knew it would be nasty winter storm weather today. It's so nice to see the farm dry under its new tarps, and they held up well under the ice.

Then up to the little house that will be come the farm's retail area. I've been keeping lights on there all the time for security reasons. We've had several break-ins, and the light makes it look more lived-in, and it would be obvious from the street or the driveway if anyone were moving around in it.

As I started turning off lights, I looked at them. I THOUGHT I'd gotten them all switched over to fluorescents, but I guess not. I went back to the main house for a bunch of bulbs, and started switching out each light as I turned it off. While looking for light bulbs, I also found a spare timer, so I brought that over, too. I set up one lamp with an incandescent bulb on the timer, so it's only on during the dark hours. The compact fluorescent bulbs say not to use them with a timer. I need to look into the details of that, because it would save a lot of energy to put them all on timers. Incandescents use a lot more energy...but what's the trade-off between an incandescent on a timer, and a fluorescent that's on 24-7?

An hour later, I went around and turned things on again. But not quite all of them, not quite the same. Even this belated, impromptu effort at observing Earth Hour had made a surprising difference in both my awareness and my infrastructure.

-- In the little house, I replaced 4 incandescents with cfl's, reduced the number of 24-7 lights by 2/5, and put 1 incandescent (a mere 40 watts) on a timer to run just 12 hours.

-- In the barn, I adjusted the timer to remain on just 3 hours after dusk, instead of 5.

-- In the house, I replaced the bad old bulb with a new one, and was amazed at how much more light it gives. And I only turned on the light in the room where I'm working. And I unplugged the drill charger and the bread machine until the next time I use them.

It's a tiny effort. But it's little efforts like this that add up, day after day, month after month, year after year, one household at a time.

Next year I'll do more.

And during that hour--I remembered how much I like darkness, when I'm not too focussed on DOING things.

1 comment:

Judielaine said...

This Canadian power company reported a 10% drop in power usage over Earth hour:
http://www.emediaworld.com/press_release/release_detail.php?id=438276

Every little bit does help.