Monday 24 March 2014

7 fun things you can do this Earth Hour

Five more sleeps until one of my favourite nights of the year: the night the world joins hands and turns off its lights - not to go to bed, but to wake up to the urgency of using less energy and protecting the Earth.

Here's a newbie's guide (or a refresher) on the whole Earth Hour thing:

What on earth is Earth Hour? Earth Hour is a one-hour event during which people interested in protecting the planet turn off all their lights. It was created by WWF-Australia in Sydney in 2007, when two million people and more than 2000 businesses got involved. Now Earth Hour is all grown up: it's a worldwide grassroots event embraced by people in 154 countries around the globe. Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

When is it? Earth Hour 2014 will be on Saturday 29 March, 2014, at 8.30pm local time wherever you are.

Why turn off the lights? WWF can answer this one: "Earth Hour aims to encourage an interconnected global community to share the opportunities and challenges of creating a sustainable world."

What does turning off the lights actually achieve? Turning off the lights is a powerful gesture, a beginning, a seed. As well as reminding us that we're all connected, and connected to the Earth, Earth Hour has led to big changes, such as increasing protection for the world's forests and oceans. Watch this 60-second video on the 60 minutes that change the world, every year:

The beauty of Earth Hour lies in its simplicity. To get involved, all you have to do is turn off all non-essential lights for an hour, wherever you are at 8.30pm next Saturday. Of course, it's more fun if you do that with friends or like-minded strangers, and there are thousands of Earth Hour events around the world.

Here are 7 more ways to "do" Earth Hour this year:

1. Lights out for the Reef: In Australia, the focus of Earth Hour 2014 is saving the Great Barrier Reef from climate change and other man-made threats. Earth Hour is joining with Channel Ten to screen a documentary about the Reef and why it is in danger, and this will be screened at Earth Hour events all over the country. See for more info.

2. Stretch your legs: Go for a walk and see how different (or not) things look in darkness: your street, the city skyline, local landmarks, your neighbours' houses, the night sky.

3. Salute to the moon: Yoga centres and hotels all over the world - from Yogatree in Canada to the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai - will be holding candle-lit Earth Hour yoga classes. Here in Sydney, Qi Yoga will be having a candle-lit kirtan (meditative chanting) class from 7pm to 9.30pm on Saturday night.

4. Starry, starry night sky: Make the most of the darkness to view the night sky in all its glory - by looking up, or by visiting your nearest observatory. Sydney Observatory, for instance, is hosting a "Don't be Afraid of the Dark" Earth Hour event with poetry and star-gazing.

5. Candle-lit Scrabble: Have a candle-lit night in with people you love: play Scrabble or read by candle-light, host a candle-lit dinner party, take a candle-lit bath...

Happiness is enough candles
to read by
6. Give some candle-love: Inspire someone else to turn off the lights by giving them a beautiful beeswax candle (soy candles are not as eco-friendly but are still better than regular, petrochemical-based candles). Byron Bay-based Northern Light is having a factory seconds sale right now. Or donate a candle ($5 each) to help WWF spell out a "Lights out for the Reef" message on the front lawn of Parliament House, Canberra.

7. Embrace your dark side: Vow to have a regular "electricity-free" night - perhaps once a week or once a month - when your entire household forgoes all devices, screens, tv, phones and electricity from dusk to dawn. I did a weekly electricity-free night during my No Impact month when I started this blog three years ago, and it was the most surprisingly enjoyable part of the whole project. So peaceful, fun and calming.

What will you be doing this Saturday night at 8.30pm? I'm stocking up on candles and joining the Earth Hour gathering at Manly beach, in Sydney, where it all began. Maybe I'll see you there.

Saturday 15 March 2014

5 reasons to give up your car - and use GoGet

When I sold my car last year (see moving out and dropping out), it was the end of an affair. I love driving, and the freedom to go anywhere you like, anytime. To head off on surf trips - even out of Sydney - at a moment's notice.

Not having wheels (except on my bike) took some getting used to, and a few adjustments - when I stay in Sydney now, I make sure I'm within walking distance of the surf (getting my surfboard down to the beach was the main reason I had a car in the first place).

Like my new car?
But it was liberating, too, not having to think about petrol prices, parking spots and car insurance. I got more exercise, I got to know intimately (for bus and ferry connections) and I'm now a convert to GoGet car-sharing.

A couple of days ago I used a GoGet car to drive from Manly to Ryde (in Sydney), and it reminded me of the joys of car-sharing.

Just swipe and go
It was all so easy. The nearest GoGet car was right outside the place I'm staying in Manly. After booking the car online the night before, all I had to do on the day was wave my GoGet membership card past the sensor on the windscreen. The car doors magically opened. Inside, I found the car spotlessly clean, with air-con, a stereo, a street directory AND a full tank of gas. I got in, started the engine using the ignition key attached to the dash and drove away.

5 more reasons to ditch your car and go GoGet:

1. You can find and book cars online, anytime. First, you join GoGet - there are three membership plans, ranging from $0 a month (with a higher per-hour rate) to $29 a month (I'm on this one and pay $5.69 an hour plus 40c per km). Not only is this way cheaper than buying and maintaining your own car, you still have access to a car anytime of the day or night, by being able to book online - by the hour or by the day ($69 a day on my plan, including 150km). 

2. You can pick up the car you've booked anytime of the day or night. So it's just like having your own car - without the hassles. And it's more convenient than renting a car and having to get to the rental place during office hours. With GoGet, after you've booked a car you just walk to the nearest "pod" (a parking space for a GoGet car), swipe your membership card and drive away.

3. There are more than 1000 GoGet cars - in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane (there are 9 just in my suburb, Manly NSW). All air-conditioned, automatic, regularly serviced and professionally cleaned. As well as economical hatchbacks, there are electric cars, hybrids, utes, people movers, premium cars (Audis and Alfas) and wagons. You can even request a car with roofracks or child seats. 

4. Petrol is included. Inside every GoGet car, there are two petrol cards, for Caltex and BP. If the tank gets below a quarter full while you're driving it, simply fill up at a service station and pay for it using one of the cards. GoGet covers maintenance costs, repairs and insurance for all their cars too. Yay. 

5. Everything about GoGet is eco-minded. Their guiding philosophy is to reduce the number of cars on our roads (for every GoGet car, there are apparently nine fewer private cars driving around) and encourage people to use public transport, walk and ride bikes to get around. People drive 20 per cent less when they become GoGet members than when they had their own cars. And GoGet cars are, on average, less than 1.3 years old, so they're efficient, and therefore eco-friendly. 

I did experience a couple of issues using GoGet car this week: on returning to Manly after my little automotive excursion, it was tricky finding a place to park (my car didn't have a dedicated pod, unlike some others) - but GoGet does give members a number you can text when you have to park it somewhere other than where you found it (as I did), so the next person knows where to find it. I also wish I could book in half-hour blocks, instead of hourly blocks starting on the hour.

But these are tiny prices to pay for the massive convenience of having a car on call, anytime, right outside my door without the hassles and costs of owning one. It's also nice to know you're doing your bit towards communal ownership, which is surely the way of the future, for our planet's sake.

The bottom line: For more on how owning a car compares to sharing one, see what GoGet has to say.