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An hour of darkness for Earths good
Cities worldwide will turn out lights tonight
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Listen as Peter Gordon, education director at Elachee Nature Science Center, talks about the significance of Earth Hour.

Could you get along without electric lights for one hour? Here’s your opportunity to find out.

Tonight, cities all over the world, including Atlanta, will observe "Earth Hour." To save energy, individuals and businesses are asked to turn off all nonessential lighting between 8 and 9 p.m.

The event, created by the World Wildlife Federation in order to call attention to the problem of global warming, was first held in Sydney, Australia, a year ago. The city managed to reduce its energy consumption by 10 percent during that one-hour period.

Carbon dioxide and other gases emitted during power generation are believed to contribute to climate change.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin decided to sign on as an Earth Hour partner city because Georgia’s capital has one of the worst air-quality ratings in the country. Major Atlanta tourist destinations, such as the Georgia Aquarium and the Buckhead district, are planning to turn off most of their lights tonight.

Lighting necessary for public safety will not be affected, organizers said.

Gainesville has not officially signed up with the Earth Hour program, but anyone can participate no matter where they live, and Elachee Nature Science Center is encouraging local residents to do so.

"It can open your eyes to all the things you can do to save energy," said Peter Gordon, director of education at Elachee. "It’s reassuring to see that big cities like Atlanta are going to be a part of it."

Gordon said Elachee will offer a program from 7 to 8 tonight just prior to Earth Hour.

"We’ll talk about energy use, and how lights at night can affect migratory birds," he said.

Bright lights at night can cause birds to become disoriented, disrupting their flight patterns. That’s particularly a problem this time of year, when birds are en route to their summer breeding grounds.

Earth Hour is not related to Earth Day, an observance that has been held every April 22 for almost four decades. The latter is a much broader event that addresses the entire spectrum of environmental issues. Earth Hour focuses mostly on energy consumption.

"Not a whole lot of people know about this event, but it’s gaining steam," said Gordon. "Folks are becoming a lot more aware that they can make a difference."

Some critics have already dismissed Earth Hour as a stunt or environmental propaganda. But the organizers have never claimed that turning off the lights for an hour will reverse climate change. They say it’s a symbolic event intended to raise awareness.

Whether it will cause even a minor dip in Atlanta’s electricity consumption remains to be seen. Franklin has asked Georgia Power to monitor the metro area’s power usage and see if it changes during that hour.

John Sell, spokesman for Georgia Power, said the utility has about 1.2 million customers in metro Atlanta. He said no one has calculated how much energy would be saved if every customer turned off their lights for an hour.

"But we’ve tracked power consumption over the past several weeks so we can get a baseload, and we’ll be tracking it (from 8 to 9 tonight) to see if there’s a difference."

Sell said heating and cooling account for the largest percentage of electricity consumption. "But lighting does have an impact, especially because it generates heat," he said.

Compact fluorescent bulbs put off much less heat than standard incandescent bulbs, and Georgia Power is encouraging customers to make the switch. Sell hopes Earth Hour might provide a little more motivation.

"We think anything that reminds people to use energy efficiently is a good thing," he said.

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