It’s supposed to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing. Colorado Springs city officials turned off one-third of the city’s streetlights because of recession-era budget cuts and a failed tax proposal. The darkened lights have been fodder for a decidedly negative media campaign that went national, casting aspersion on conservative voters.
Yet the media celebrate an annual event called Earth Hour as a nod to global warming. Americans are asked to turn out lights for one hour on a specified evening in order to help save Mother Earth from the ravages of wanton energy consumption. Here are some typical headlines associated with Earth Hours gone by:
“An hour to help save the earth” — New York Times
“Earth Hour hopes to shed light on climate” — USA Today
“An hour of darkness for the planet” — Huffington Post
This year, Earth Hour falls on March 27. Expect fanfare from the media and government officials as the sacred event draws near. Schools will rally around the cause, urging students to tell their parents to turn out lights.
For the past two years, efforts to get Colorado Springs residents to participate in Earth Hour have disappointed organizers. Imagine this year is different. Pretend 100 percent of Colorado Springs households will turn out the lights for Earth Hour. Based on data provided by Colorado Springs Utilities, the event would save roughly $1,500 in energy. By contrast, the city’s reduction in streetlights will save $3,287 on March 27. Unlike full Earth Hour participation, streetlight reduction isn’t a pipe dream. It will happen for sure, as it does each night. Earth Hour will never achieve full participation and would have less than half the value of our city’s streetlight reduction if it did.
The city’s streetlight reduction will, beyond question, save the city $1.2 million worth of energy this year. If we had Earth Hour every night for all of 2010, and each night the event had 100 percent participation, the program would save roughly $574,500 in consumption — less than half what the city will absolutely save with streetlight reduction.
City officials will save considerably more energy in 2010, just by reducing streetlights, than Earth Hour will save throughout the entire country. Few conservation programs result in so much good while exacting so little pain.
Yet in our strangely irrational culture, streetlight reduction is sinister and Earth Hour is righteous. Our city’s darkened streetlights generate negative press, while Earth Hour enjoys the full support of educators, politicians, activists, environmentally conscious journalists, and others who purportedly care about the planet.
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Al Brody, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, likes streetlight reduction because it improves his view of planets and stars. He believes city officials intentionally missed an opportunity to boast about energy conservation.
“The city wants to cause pain until they get a tax increase,” Brody said. “This is supposed to cause us pain, and they get weirded out when they turn out the lights and people like me say ‘thank you.’ It throws them off.”
Though Brody may have a point, city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg brought Brody’s excitement about the light-reduction program to The Gazette’s attention. She also shared comments from other Springs residents who have contacted the city to express their delight with the loss of streetlights.
Astronomers love the reduction in street lighting because it improves their view of space. Tom Rhue is among about 10 residents who have contacted the city asking to have lights turned off on their streets. Rhue told city officials he has lived too long with a streetlight shining into his bedroom, making the night seem like day.
Though streetlight reduction has generated negative press, the Earth Day Network may ask mayors throughout the country to consider following our city’s lead.
“We are asking mayors to host meetings with constituents in order to discuss ways to reduce each city’s consumption, and we will probably suggest they look into what Colorado Springs has done as part of it,” said Jennifer Resick, communications director for Earth Day Network.
Recessions are tough. But trying times have a way of making survivors smarter and stronger. Shutting off excessive lighting is just plain old-fashioned smart. Colorado Springs deserves an award. — Wayne Laugesen, editorial page editor, for the editorial board