Chch to switch off lights for climate

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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On Saturday, March 29, Christchurch will join cities around the world to take a stand against one of the planet's biggest threats - climate change.

Cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Chicago and Manila will switch off their lights for one hour to mark the first global Earth Hour.

Christchurch is the first New Zealand city to join the initiative.

The Press will lead the way by switching off lights and appliances at its central city office, including its neon sign.

Today it is officially launching Earth Hour and inviting Christchurch residents to join to help make a difference.

The Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury (ECan) have already pledged their support, along with electricity company Orion, the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Christ Church Cathedral, which will switch off its outside lights.

The city's key Civil Defence organisers support the initiative, which involves non-essential lighting. Street lights will not be affected.

The first Earth Hour was held last year in Sydney as an initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and The Sydney Morning Herald. The Herald is part of Fairfax Media, and other titles in the group are leading the project in their cities, including The Press in Christchurch.

The editor, Andrew Holden, said The Press was delighted to launch the initiative in partnership with the city council and ECan.

"Earth Hour may seem purely symbolic - what difference can we make in just 60 minutes? - but it is an opportunity for everyone to show their concern, to look seriously at the amount of energy each of us uses, and to commit ourselves to protecting our environment," he said.

"We don't know how big this project will become, or what directions it will take us, and that's the beauty of it. This is a community event.

"It's not owned by any group or business; it's a chance for the people of Christchurch, and beyond if other towns and cities want to take part, to take the idea and make it work."

Holden said there would be no clash with the Crusaders - they play in Wellington on the Friday night - and at this stage all cities would mark the hour between 8pm and 9pm, although this may be adjusted in Christchurch, depending on summer twilight.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the event was a chance to "raise the bar".

"I, and I am sure everyone else at the CCC - councillors and staff, support The Press and their great initiative to raise community awareness of energy issues by promoting the Earth Hour concept," he said.

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"As the first council in New Zealand to write and adopt a sustainable energy strategy, and to have reduced its energy use by 30 per cent over the last decade, our citizens are already playing a key role in moving towards a more sustainable future via their council."

Council projects included the harvesting of waste gas from a closed landfill that is used to heat and generate electricity for the Queen Elizabeth II Park complex and the sale of carbon credits, which are used to underwrite the costs of the sustainable energy strategy.

"It's ground-breaking stuff in local government in New Zealand. I think it is another reason to feel proud to be part of this city," Parker said.

"Now it is time for us to raise the bar again in our community. Earth Hour is part of raising our participation on an individual level, by participating in a collective event, with a measurable outcome. We can together show how one city can make a difference."

ECan chairman Sir Kerry Burke said he was pleased to be part of the joint initiative.

"It is ECan's legislative responsibility to protect and manage the environment and to promote sustainable use of our resources. Staff at ECan are expected to turn off any lights, computers, mobile phone and laptop chargers when leaving their workspace," he said.

"I think Earth Hour is a terrific initiative. It is about one night to inspire Cantabrians to turn off unnecessary appliances in their homes, and to be more aware of the difference we can all make towards the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.

"It's about the future of this planet, our children and grandchildren."

The impact of Earth Hour will be measured by Orion, which can compare the use with previous days or the same day last year.

Orion chief executive officer Roger Sutton said Earth Hour was about small changes.

"If you get lots of people doing small things, it adds up," he said.

"This is about starting with small easy steps which can lead to other things, like choosing energy-saving lightbulbs or more energy-efficient appliances and even to designing whole houses to make them more energy-efficient."

Sutton said it was appropriate that Christchurch was the first New Zealand city to sign up for Earth Hour because it was already forward-thinking.

"I think Christchurch already has a higher awareness of energy efficiency and climate than other cities," he said. "The council is very pro-active and there are several businesses here that are leading the way."

The Press will highlight all individuals, groups and businesses taking part in Earth Hour in the build-up to March 29 and afterwards.

A special website will be built as part of press. co.nz, where people will be able to register their involvement, and offer and debate ideas.

- The Press

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