Cayman, your light switch is your vote

It’s a revolutionary idea, but a simple one, that can be put into action with the mere flip of a switch.

People, buildings, and cities across the globe are being asked to show their support for action on climate change by turning off all non-essential lights for one hour, 8.30-9.30pm local time tomorrow, Saturday, 28 March.

The World Wildlife Fund, the global environmental organisation spearheading the event, says its Earth Hour movement is a way for the world to ‘Vote Earth’ with their lights.

‘Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming,’ said a statement from the WWF.

‘Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community, a call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet.’

With a target of 1 billion such votes, the WWF will present the votes to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009, the meeting which will determine official government policies to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

‘Climate change will threaten the social and economic well-being of small islands like the Cayman Islands that are already vulnerable to weather-related hazards,’ said Lisa-Ann Hurlston-McKenzie, who is the Sustainable Development Coordinator for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

‘In fact evidence of these effects is already being felt in the Caribbean with stronger hurricanes and more frequent weather extremes disrupting commercial activities, less total rainfall affecting water resources for tourism and agriculture, and movement of some fisheries out of traditional areas to cooler or deeper water,’ she continued.

‘Abating human-induced climate change will require a global response, and while small islands only account for 1% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, their citizens also have a moral responsibility to contribute to the solution through their actions.’

She said that as a result, many small islands are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an agreement which signals their intent to enact policies and measures that would reduce their greenhouse gas contribution, the simplest of which are energy conversation and more efficient use of energy.

‘Earth Hour is one global initiative that highlights this pressing issue and motivates countries and individuals to do their part, even if it is merely symbolic for an hour or a day,’ said Ms Hurlston-McKenzie.

Starting off relatively with modest goals, Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour.

By 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights, and global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Coliseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

This year, Earth Hour has even garnered support at the highest levels, including the endorsement of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who urged citizens around the world to join in the event to demand action on climate change.

In New York, Ban said that the United Nations would be doing its bit for Earth Hour by switching out the lights at UN Headquarters while other UN facilities around the world will also take part, noting it may the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted.

‘Earth Hour is a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message. They want action on climate change,’ he said.

Hundreds of millions of people are expected to take part. Cities already listed to participate this year include Cape Town, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Las Vegas, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Manila, Mexico City, Moscow, Nashville, Oslo, Rome, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, Toronto, and Warsaw.

Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support and this number is growing everyday.

Icons switching off include the world’s tallest hotel building in Dubai – the Burj Dubai, the tallest free-standing structure in the Americas – the CN Tower in Toronto, Moscow’s Federation Tower, and Rome’s Quirinale, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.

Auckland’s Sky Tower, the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere will go dark, joined by Australia’s iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House. Across in Cape Town, South Africa, the city’s famed Table Mountain be turning off its flood lights.

But as with all such symbolic gestures, Ms Hurlston-McKenzie pointed out the objective is that the goal of cutting carbon emissions and looking to more sustainable sources of energy will not end at Earth Hour.

‘It is hoped that nations, their governments and citizens will continue to conserve and use energy more wisely even after this event has passed and institute simple practices in their businesses and lives daily to show a significant commitment to combating further climate change,’ she said.

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