Chicago goes 'dark' for Earth Hour


For an hour Saturday night Chicagoans managed to reduce their energy consumption by a respectable 5 percent, but let's just say the city's Earth Hour efforts don't risk putting ComEd out of business any time soon.

The hour without power is not exactly a wower. Look close, and you can see the lights on the Sears Tower switch off. Then, from the ground, the white ribbon of light that wraps around the Hancock Building is extinguished.

"It's always great in theory, in practice things don't always go as you hoped," said Jaelea Neal.

The visual tip of the hat to the environment is more obvious at other landmarks. In front of Wrigley Field, the famous marquee is dark. The show went on at Chicago's stage theaters, but their big signs were turned off for the hour. So were the 16,000 lights that mark the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel.

At the Signature Room, 95 floors above the city, patrons dined by candlelight as well a dimmer than normal illumination from Mr. Edison's invention. But look outside, and you'll have a true appreciation for the fact, that even with extra awareness, we still use a lot of electricity without even giving it a second thought.

"Our hope is as residents and business come out tonight they're going to find things they can do on a daily basis," said Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's chief environment officer.

What can you do to reduce your everyday energy consumption? Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. Unplug cell phone chargers, DVD players and exercise equipment... they use power even when they're not being used. Motion sensors on outdoor lights cut down also help. And you can fill a milk jug with water and put it in your toilet to immediately reduce the amount of water you literally flush away.

As for Earth Hour... Lights were switched in cities around the world, from Sydney's famed Opera House and Harbour Bridge, to cultural centers in Bangkok and the Philippines.

Back in Chicago, ComEd engineers monitored consumption from 8-to-9 p.m.

"The percentage drop that we saw on load here at ComEd was a 5 percent drop, and I understand that a 5 percent drop equates to 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide not being emitted into the atmosphere," said Fidel Marquez, ComEd vice president.

"The fact that we can actually survive downtown and still conduct our daily business without so much light let's us know that this constant illumination may be wasteful," said Neal.

Saturday night's effort was largely symbolic, meant to get people thinking about their everyday energy consumption, the thinking being even small changes, when magnified on a global scale, will have an impact.

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