Tonight over a hundred cities worldwide and hundreds of thousands of individuals are observing Earth Hour. Participating is easy-- turn off your lights (and other non-essential appliances) for an hour, from 8 to 9pm local time. (And register on the website so they can track you!) Last year when the campaign was focused on Sydney, Australia, energy use in the city was 10% lower than normal during Earth Hour.
But if this sounds good to you, don't just participate one hour a year-- work on ways to decrease the energy you use on lighting year round, and it'll be better for the earth (and your wallet.) About 1/5 of the average household's energy costs come from lighting, costing more than $200 a year and causing more than 3000 pounds of C02 to be emitted. Here are some ways to cut that back:
- It isn't news to anyone, but you should still turn off lights when you leave a room, and switch to energy-efficient CFL bulbs.
- Use natural light during the daytime. Open your blinds wide and spend your time in rooms that have abundant natural light. Or go outside and take in the light directly.
- Wait a little longer to turn your lights on at dusk. Do you turn on your lights at the first hint of dimming natural light? See how long you can wait and still be comfortable. Many people will feel temporary eye strain if they try to read in low light-- but most experts say that reading in dim light causes no permanent damage to your eyes, so if you're like me and your eyes feel fine even when those around you are saying "How on earth can you read like that?" why not wait another 15 minutes or half-hour to turn on the lights? Or if you can't read, try doing errands that don't require full lighting, like folding laundry, or the hobbies you always tell yourself "I could do that with my eyes closed!"
- Find things to do in the dark. Test them out during Earth Hour, but then see if you can incorporate them from time to time throughout the year.
- Go outside and stargaze. This will be particularly enjoyable during Earth Hour if there's significant participation in your area (less light pollution than usual) but it's enjoyable any night. (Check out my 16 Tips for a Great (Frugal) Stargazing Experience.)
- Take an evening walk. Just be careful to be safe-- wear reflective clothing, etc. Try a flashlight that's powered by hand-cranking or by shaking to minimize your use of electricity.
- Spend time with your friends and family in the dark. You don't need light to talk to each other. And kids especially may enjoy the novelty of talking and playing together in the dark inside the house (or "camping" in the back yard.)
- Listen to music. Ever noticed that you enjoy and appreciate music more if you listen with your eyes closed? Skip a step and leave the lights off!
- Eat dinner by (local, beeswax) candlelight. Candlelight can be fun and romantic-- but because of the environmental effects of transporting them, and because reguarly paraffin candles emit carbon when you burn them, you're really only coming out ahead if you use beeswax candles from a local source.
- Use only as much light as you need. If you're sitting in the corner of the living room, do you really need the overhead lighting that illuminates the whole room, or can you get by with a small reading light nearby?
- Change your sleep schedule to take best advantage of natural light. This is very hard for a night owl like me, but for every hour of daylight we sleep through in the morning and instead spend awake at night with the lights on, we're using unnecessary electricity.