“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”—A proverbThe Union-Tribune sure thinks Mayor Jerry Sanders has the Midas touch. On the city's financial quandary, Sanders is “changing [the] pension footprint.” Sanders mentions water conservation a few times and—voila!—San Diegans obey, the U-T tells us, despite water officials' suggestions that rainy weather probably played a bigger role in recent reduced water use.
So, employing the U-T's logic, the total news blackout from the mayor on the subject of Earth Hour, which took place with great worldwide fanfare on March 29, should have doomed the “lights out” event locally to the ash heap of non-participation, right?
Well, apparently, wrong!
It seems it doesn't take a mayor to get San Diegans busy with globe-saving gestures. Despite no mayoral pronouncements and minimal media coverage, residents across the county seemed to heed the call of Earth Hour to turn off their lights from 8 to 9 p.m. a week ago Saturday.
Spin Cycle asked Sempra Energy—which did zero promotion for the event (by comparison, Chicago's power company, ComEd, took the lead in dimming its city's skyline)—to check on power usage locally during that hour. Sure enough, the electrical load dropped by as much as 3 percent.
“San Diego appears to have heeded the Earth Hour appeal despite the lack of media attention,” Sempra spokesperson Rachel Laing reported. “I told you San Diegans heart Mother Earth!”
Laing said usage throughout the service territory (which includes San Diego County and a portion of southern Orange County) dropped anywhere from 50 megawatts to 100 megawatts—the equivalent, she said, of “shutting down all electrical use for between 32,500 and 65,000 homes.”
Compare that with usage drops in participating cities like Chicago, where the power load dipped 7 percent, and it seems San Diego didn't do too badly despite the lack of official backing and media coverage.
While cities like Toronto embraced the event with gusto—the Toronto Star produced hundreds of stories and photos in its Earth Hour coverage—San Diego's largest daily newspaper offered a tepid three-paragraph acknowledgement buried in a quirky science column.
And while the U-T did run a story the day after the worldwide event, it carried a dateline of Dublin, Ireland. The Associated Press story recounted the dimming of landmarks the world over, from Bangkok's famed Wat Arun Buddhist temple and the Sydney Opera House to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and the Coliseum in Rome during the admittedly symbolic gesture raising awareness of the threat of global warming.
So, if 400 cities worldwide—Tel Aviv, Dubai, Atlanta, Phoenix, St. Louis and even little Homer Glen, Ill., to name a few—could get involved, why not San Diego?
George Biagi, a spokesperson for Sanders, told Spin Cycle: “Unfortunately, we didn't get word of the Earth Hour event until the Tuesday prior…. We would have loved to have participated, but there simply wasn't adequate time to pull anything together. Hopefully, if this occurs again next year, we can participate in an appropriate manner.”
This from Mayor Press-Conference-Every-Day? Guess there wasn't a two-minute window in there somewhere to ask residents to turn off their lights for an hour.
Biagi did note the mayor's support last June of the formation of CleanTECH San Diego, which Sanders suggested would “nurture and accelerate the growth of companies with environmentally friendly technologies and foster sustainable development and green enterprises.”
But a quick check of CleanTECH's website indicates little or no movement on that crusade since then. No news announcements, no event-calendar listings.
Not missing a political opportunity, Charles Gallagher, campaign manager for mayoral hopeful Steve Francis, chastised the city's missed chance to join other cities in their enthusiasm for Earth Hour.
“As mayor, Steve would promote Earth Hour and not ignore it like Mayor Sanders,” Gallagher said in an e-mail. “Steve wants to do more than sign agreements to protect our local environment. Steve believes that when it comes to our natural resources and energy, actions speak louder than words.”
So, it appears that, should either of these gentlemen be mayor next March, Earth Hour will get its due in San Diego in 2009.
This makes folks like Joe Vecchio and Tammy Bowser glad. Vecchio, who heads up eco-encouraging nonprofit Home International (Home, as in Heal Our Mother Earth), signed up as a local business participant for Earth Hour.
Vecchio, a Chicago native, has been drawn to the global-warming cause since seeing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth about a half-dozen times. His organization now helps set up screenings of various environmentally friendly films and co-sponsors UCSD's Earth Week Vidfest, in which students submit homemade films that raise environmental awareness.
He's already preparing a list of San Diego landmarks that should be dimmed for next year's Earth Hour—from the SeaWorld tower to the Coronado Bridge and various skyscrapers Downtown. Vecchio wasn't so ticked at Sanders as he was at the local media.
“It used to be, ‘It's the economy, stupid,'” he said. “Now, ‘It's the media, stupid,' because the mainstream media wants to keep us stupid and in debt.” He said he went to a comedy club after the Earth Hour event, where a comic asked the audience how they celebrated Earth Hour.
“The audience didn't respond. They were like an oil painting,” Vecchio recalled.
Bowser, of Vista, meanwhile, did what she could to promote Earth Hour. Bowser, who waters indoor office plants for a living, mentioned Earth Hour at every office she visited leading up to the day. At the appointed hour, she found herself in a mom-and-pop coffee shop with the lights blaring. She asked an employee if the lights could be turned off, but “nothing happened.” She then enlisted eight other customers to make the request, but they were told “all the lights were connected” and couldn't be dimmed.
“My heart was in the right place,” Bowser said.
Indeed. And that's why people should be encouraged, not discouraged, said Dan Forman, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, which sponsored Earth Hour.
Forman said he thinks participation did not depend on political ideology. After all, Phoenix is a pretty conservative town, and its mayor did the honors in dimming City Hall there, he said.
“I'm not going to slight San Diego,” Forman said. “Hopefully, your city will participate next year. We knew Earth Hour wasn't going to solve global warming. But long-term, maybe it changes the way people think about the energy they use.”
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