Friday 15 April 2011

Candle power

Last night we went electricity-free again – it’s becoming a weekly habit, and I like it. No electricity, just to recap, doesn’t just mean no lights and no tv but no laptops, no phone calls (our cordless phone base station feeds on electricity), no mobile phones, no appliances like toasters. When we decided to have toast with our organic omelettes last night, we made French toast in the frypan (we're using gas for cooking, so it’s not a wholly emissions-free night). We could have used the gas stove to boil water for a cuppa (no kettle) but that seemed excessive and we forgot to fill the thermos with hot water earlier in the day, so we went without.

But it didn't feel like deprivation; it felt like quiet-time, together-time. Without lights, we stepped outside to notice the moon, creeping into fullness.

I folded the laundry by the glow of a tall beeswax candle, then lay down on the floor to relax after a long day at my desk. Without the incessant pull of a tv program or the over-stimulation of ads or the endless possibilities of calling or skyping a friend, blogging, finishing some work, looking at photos on my laptop, or any of the other million-and-one things that lure me away from the here and the now, my nervous system relaxed with relief.

I showered by candlelight and, I’m almost embarrassed to say it (but I will anyway), I was in my PJs before 7pm. It felt deliciously cosy. Craig cooked up some mussels and I made the omelette and we ate at our little table by the window, looking out on other people’s lights (thank you to them for the spectacle). Then we played scrabble by candlelight again.

Darkness slows you down; you have to be tidy – the last thing you want when you’re walking from room to room with a candle (like some 18th century heroine investigating a noise in another part of the castle she inhabits with a strange, dark and handsome man) is an obstacle like a wet towel or a pile of discarded clothes.

It also reminds you that electricity is a privilege for many in the world – about 1.4 billion people, 20 per cent of the world’s population, live without electricity, full-time.

But it’s not just for a warm glow that I’m doing this. Electricity is one of the main ways we contribute daily to climate change, especially in Australia.

In a single year, from September 2009 to September 2010, Australia generated an estimated 547 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide, up 1.2% on the previous year. Almost half of that, 201 Mt, came from electricity – that’s coal-fired power stations to you and me. (Source: Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency’s National Greenhouse Accounts.)

The Greens have a plan to close down the seven coal-fired power stations in NSW, and I just found out that my energy biller AGL, invested $2 billion in renewable energy over the last four years. But until we get all our electricity from sunlight and wind-power, the biggest single thing we, as individuals, can do to reduce our environmental impact is to use less of it.

A lot of people I know said they thought Earth Hour was a waste of time, that turning off the lights for an hour wouldn't change anything. They were wrong. What started in Sydney in 2007 with 2.2 million people and 2000 businesses turning off their lights for an hour has become a global movement: this year 5000 cities in 135 countries did the Earth Hour thing.

And the Beyond the Hour campaign is showing that a single, simple act like switching off a light sends ripples out in all directions as people all over the globe pledge to do more acts great and small, like not riding in elevators and not buying bottled water. Millions of tiny steps, one giant leap for humankind. Go Earth.

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