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Why Switzerland will be plunged into darkness



Lights out. Bern’s Munster was switched off last year

Lights out. Bern’s Munster was switched off last year

(Keystone)

Geneva’s jet d’eau will be off for an hour on Saturday evening, as will the lights in Lausanne cathedral and Zurich’s main station… but it’s all for a good cause.

People, cities and companies across Switzerland are turning the electricity off at 8.30pm to mark WWF’s Earth Hour, a huge global action to raise climate awareness.

They will join the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Pyramids in Giza and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in the energy-saving event, which is scheduled to take place at local time in 125 countries.

“It’s the biggest climate action event in the world,” WWF Switzerland’s Philip Gehri told swissinfo.ch.

“It’s one hour where people switch their lights off to show that we want to do more for the climate, that it’s an urgent matter.”

Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 and became global a year later, with 800 cities taking part. Last year more than 4,000 cities joined and in 2010 it is more than 5,000.

This is Switzerland’s first organised Earth Hour participation as last year’s came about at the last minute. Around 30 cities have signed up, including Geneva, Lausanne and the capital, Bern.

Zurich in the black

The country’s largest city, Zurich, is also involved. Here the lights will be off in the churches, the city hall, the main station and the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology building.

Harry Graf, spokesman for the Zurich Municipal Electric Utility (ewz) said that for the Zurich authorities it was important to heighten public awareness of energy, electricity and climate issues.

“Our resources are not unlimited, so we have to ensure that these resources, water, sun, wind and biomass, are available for the next generation,” he told swissinfo.ch.

“Compare it to water. When you don’t need it, you turn off the taps, you don’t let the water run, so one has to be frugal.”

The whole city won’t be dimmed as the street lamps, buses and trams will still be working. The public and monument lighting that will be off – controlled these days via computer – will in fact only account for around one per cent of the city’s total energy output.

Overall, Zurich uses around 3,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, making up around five per cent of Switzerland’s total use.

The idea is, however, to spur people on. “It can’t be that people say ‘I’ve switched off the lights for an hour and I’ve done something good’, they should say ‘I should always switch this light off or the television standby’,” Graf said.

Economics and climate

In Zurich’s financial heartland at Paradeplatz, big bank Credit Suisse will also be flipping the light switches.

More than 50 Credit Suisse buildings will be dimmed globally, including head offices in New York and London. The firm said that Earth Hour promoted awareness of the sustainable handling of natural resources and was thus in line with its environmental strategy.

It joins companies in Switzerland such as Ikea and the brewery Feldschlösschen. At Zurich airport, Hilton Hotel guests will be able to enjoy a candlelight dinner.

WWF Switzerland welcomes the involvement of firms. “Still too often you see the opinion that either you can do something for the economy or the climate but if you do climate protection in a smart way it can be good for the economy,” Gehri explained.

He cited a McKinsey report which found that investing in energy efficiency for example could save a lot of money and the expense of building new power plants.

Family affair

As for the public, Gehri said WWF Switzerland had widened Earth Hour to include other climate measures, such as using the time to change to more energy efficient light bulbs or find a more environmentally friendly - plane-less - holiday.

Sonja Graesslin from Basel joined her running club for a walking and running event on March 24 to raise awareness of Earth Hour

Her children are active WWF members and her oldest son has joined Swiss-based explorer Mike Horn’s Pangaea yep (young explorers’ programme). This had influenced the whole family, so it seemed natural to sign up to Earth Hour, she said.

So what will the family be doing? “Early evening we will participate in the Basel Birslauf running race,” Graesslin told swissinfo.ch. “And if we are back home before Earth Hour starts, we will play cards by candlelight.”

Isobel Leybold-Johnson, swissinfo.ch

Earth Hour

Earth Hour is a global WWF climate change initiative in which individuals, businesses, governments and communities are invited to turn out their lights for one hour on Saturday March 27, 2010 at 8.30pm to show their support for action on climate change.

The event began in Sydney in 2007, when 2 million people switched off their lights. In 2008, more than 50 million people around the globe participated. In 2009, participation swelled to 4,159 cities, towns and municipalities in 88 countries and many of the world’s best known landmarks participated. It is hoped that more than 1 billion people worldwide will take part this year.

Switzerland only joined at the last minute last year, so only cities were involved. This year around 30 cities are taking part as are more than 500 individuals. It is small scale compared with some other countries, like neighbouring Austria with 5,000 people, but WWF Switzerland hopes to build on this in the coming years.

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Landmarks in the dark

Empire State Building, Las Vegas Strip, Golden Gate Bridge

Great Pyramids of Giza

Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens

Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London

Elysee Palace and Eiffel Tower in Paris

Beijing’s Birds Nest and Water Cube

Sydney’s Opera House

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