Natural Environment Blog

Blogging for the Natural Environment

Month: March 2008 (Page 1 of 4)

Massive Power Savings During Earth Hour

Earth Hour 2008 was a huge success with cities around the world reducing their energy consumption for an hour.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, power usage dropped by 12.8 per cent during Earth Hour. That’s more than double what the organizers were hoping for. Christchurch was New Zealand’s official host city for this year’s Earth Hour.

Here’s a sample of cities that participated, along with their reported power savings:

  • Christchurch saved 12.8 per cent (although some reports have it as high as 13.1 per cent)
  • Canberra saved 11.4 per cent
  • Toronto saved 9 per cent
  • Ontario saved 5 per cent
  • Ottawa saved 4 per cent
  • Sydney saved 300 megawatts
  • Sydney (central) saved 8.4 per cent. Last year, Sydney saved 10.2 per cent during the world’s first Earth Hour.
  • London saved 2 per cent
  • Bangkok saved 73.3 megawatts of electricity

These results are a stark contrast to cities like Wellington and Regina – cities that didn’t participate. Wellington and Regina’s power usage actually increased during Earth Hour! It’s not known exactly why this occurred but it’s suspected that the cold and wet weather had something to do with it. Many people had their heater on in Wellington, and none of the cities landmark buildings had their lights turned off.

More than 370 Cities, Councils, and Towns participating in Earth Hour

WWF-Australia announced that more than 370 cities, councils, and towns around the world agreed to participate in Earth Hour.

Also, the list of official cities has now increased to 26. (Note that I previously posted a list of 24 cities)

Here’s the 26 official cities participating in Earth Hour:

  • Aalborg, Denmark
  • Aarhus, Denmark
  • Adelaide, Australia
  • Atlanta, United States
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Brisbane, Australia
  • Canberra, Australia
  • Chicago, United States
  • Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Darwin, Australia
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Montreal , Canada
  • Odense, Denmark
  • Ottawa, Canada
  • Perth, Australia
  • Phoenix , United States
  • San Francisco, United States
  • Suva, Fiji
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Tasmania, Australia
  • Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Vancouver, Canada

Here’s a (partial) list of some other cities participating in Earth Hour 2008:

  • Aegina, Greece
  • Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Burlington, Canada
  • Calgary, Canada
  • Chandigarh, India
  • Chisinau, Moldova
  • Curitiba, Brazil
  • Denver, United States
  • Edmonton, Canada
  • Galway, Ireland
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Gold Coast, Australia
  • Halifax, Canada
  • Honolulu, United States
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Lautoka City, Fiji
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Miami, United States
  • Minneapolis, United States
  • Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Newcastle, Australia
  • Northampton, United Kingdom
  • Pasay City, Philippines
  • Pecs, Hungary
  • Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  • Stratford, Canada
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Wellington, New Zealand

I think it would be extremely difficult to get an exact figure on the number of cities/local areas participating in Earth Hour. Villages, towns, cities everywhere seem to be participating to some extent. For example, where I live (Cairns, Australia), the council promoted Earth Day and organized Earth Day events such as a free movie screening along the Cairns Esplanade.

Earth Hour Goes Live!

As I write this, Earth Hour is well underway with many cities around having already participated in Earth Hour.

Many cities organized Earth Hour events such as live concerts, free movie screenings, candlelit dinners etc Famous landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge were reduced to silhouettes as most of their lights were switched off.

What’s more, major companies around the world made sure they played their part in Earth Hour. For example, IT companies such as Intel, InfoSys, Wipro, and Microsoft, switched off non-critical servers and workstations for the hour. Also, Google changed the color of it’s homepage to black, and added the following words under it’s search box: “We’ve turned the lights out. Now it’s your turn”.

You can read the updates from the official Earth Hour cities on the Official Earth Hour Blog.

Exchange your Plastic Bags for a Free Reusable Bag

If you’re like most people I know, you’ve got scores of unused plastic bags stuffed away in a kitchen drawer or cupboard. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow turn these into reusable bags?

Well, depending on where you live, that’s exactly what you can do. Many local governments around the world have created a plastic bag exchange program.

A plastic bag exchange program is where you take all your unused plastic bags and exchange them for a reusable bag, usually made from a natural fiber such as jute or calico. Most programs involve community members swapping either 10 or 20 plastic bags for one reusable bag.

Here are some examples of local governments around the world who have initiated a plastic bag exchange program:

  • Sydney City Council (Australia) – In 2004, the City of Sydney undertook a 2 month plastic bag exchange to coincide with World Environment Day 2004. Residents could exchange 20 plastic bags for one calico bag.
  • Hobsons Bay City Council (Australia) – The Hobsons Bay City Council gave residents one reusable bag for every 10 plastic bags.
  • Brimbank City Council (Australia) – Council gave residents one reusable bag for every 10 plastic bags during the exchange period.
  • Westchester County (US) – Department of Environmental Facilities are holding a two day plastic bag exchange program as I write this! Residents will receive a free reusable bag for every 20 plastic bags they bring in.
  • Plano (US) – As part of Plano’s “citywide cleanup”, residents can exchange plastic bags for free reusable bags.

And, it’s not only governments that are initiating plastic bag exchange programs. According to this article, Grass Shoots intend to set up a “plastic bag amnesty” where residents can get a free reusable bag made from jute or cotton.

Many of these programs run for short periods of time, so keep an eye out to see if your local council intends to run a plastic bag exchange program. Or even better, suggest it to your council!

UK Hemp Expo 2008 to raise Hemp awareness

Since 2003, the UK has held a Hemp Expo, which aims to raise public awareness of the value of hemp as a national crop.

Each year, the Hemp Expo is held in held in various locations around the UK. This year it’s returning to London – the place of the first Hemp Expo back in 2003.

Here’s what the official website has to say about the Hemp Expo:

Featuring the latest and greatest in new inventions, clothing, bags, food, books, alternative therapies, healing, music, famous names and famous faces, seminars, new seed strains, vaporisers and much, much more.

Exhibitors, inventors, wholesalers and retailers will be coming from all over the world to show the best in hemp and alternative technologies.

This year’s Hemp Expo will be held on 14th, 15th and 16th of November 2008, at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1

Social Networking Sites a Great Way to Raise Awareness of Global Warming

You may have heard about the global warming campaign that WAYN founders set up on the website. The campaign includes a global warming profile, which allows members to make a pledge to combat global warming. Well to date, there have been over 400,000 pledges!

I first found out about this via an email from Peter and Jerome (the WAYN founders). The email, sent on 23 March, indicated that over 300,000 pledges had been made by Easter weekend. This works out to be over 10,000 pledges a day. By the time I read the email and checked the site, there were over 400,000 pledges. As I write this 401,710 pledges have been made.

I think this is a great result. At the very least, people are becoming aware of the issue and are thinking about things they can do to help combat global warming.

Also, Peter and Jerome are continuing to look for new ways to help. Here’s what they said in their most recent email:

We will continue to engage with organisations and governments to find out other ways in which our members can make a difference, and will keep you informed of our progress.

WAYN, which stands for “Where Are You Now?” is a social networking site for travelers and has over 10 million members worldwide.

With the success of WAYN’s global warming campaign, it would be good to see other social networking sites taking similar steps to help raise awareness of environmental issues such as global warming.

Candle Safety Tips for Earth Hour

I’ve just read that candles are a growing cause of fire. Each year, more and more deaths are being attributed to fire caused by candles. If this is the case, then Earth Hour will surely be a high risk time for house fires caused by candles.

Because of this, I decided to compile a list of candle safety tips. I collected these from a range of different authority websites on fire safety. If you plan to use candles during Earth Hour (or any other time for that matter!), try to follow these tips:

  • Place all candles on a heat resistant surface. Night lights and tea lights get particularly hot underneath.
  • Place all candles in a sturdy holder that stands upright and won’t fall over.
  • Never place candles near curtains (or anything else that could catch fire).
  • Keep candles away from draughts. A small draught could blow the flame onto something flammable.
  • Keep your clothes and hair away from candles. For example, never reach over a candle to pick something up.
  • Keep children and pets away from all candles.
  • Keep candles at least 10 cm apart from each other.
  • Place scented candles in a glass or metal holder. This is because scented candles turn to liquid in order to release their fragrance.
  • Never move a candle while it’s burning.
  • Always keep an eye on your candles.
  • Always extinguish candles before leaving the room unattended.
  • Always use a candle snuffer or spoon to extinguish your candles. This is safer than blowing them out (which can result in sparks).
  • Double check that all candles are out.

Environmental Impact of Candles during Earth Hour

With Earth Hour approaching, many people have indicated that they will be burning candles throughout the hour. Unfortunately, this could result in replacing one environmental problem with another.

Burning candles isn’t exactly the healthiest or most environmentally friendly thing to do – especially if made from paraffin wax. There are some eco-friendly alternatives though, so all is not lost!

Candles that are Bad for the Environment

Most cheap candles (like the ones you can buy at the supermarkets) are made from paraffin wax. Paraffin wax is a byproduct of oil refining and releases a number of carcinogens when burned. These include Acetaldehyde, Acrolein, Benzene, Formaldehyde, Polychlorodibenzo-p-dioxins, Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons and Toulene.

Some cheap candles may even contain lead in their wicks. This in turn, releases toxic fumes when burned. Lead is particularly harmful to our bodies and other animals. Some countries such as US and Australia have recently banned lead wicks from candles.

Environmentally Friendly Candles

Burning any substance is always going to have its environmental downside. But, there are candles that are better for the environment than the cheap paraffin candles.

If you want to burn candles during Earth Hour (or any other time), use soy candles or 100% beeswax candles.

  • 100% beeswax candles smoke free, non-toxic and non-allergenic. They are made of natural products (instead of petroleum based materials). Some say 100% beeswax candles are carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide they emit has already been taken from the atmosphere to produce the wax.
  • Soy candles are made from soy wax – a vegetable wax made from the oil of soybeans. Again, by using soy candles, you’re avoiding petroleum based products. Also, soy candles are said to burn 40% cooler than paraffin based candles. This means your candle will burn longer – up to 8 hours per ounce of wax.

Famous Landmarks to Participate in Earth Hour

Many of the world’s most famous landmarks will be participating in Earth Hour this weekend. Here’s a list of the famous landmarks that are officially participating in Earth Hour 2008:


  • Sydney:
    • Harbour Bridge
    • Opera House
    • Centrepoint Tower
    • Big Coke sign on William St (Kings Cross)
    • NSW Parliament
    • Town Hall
    • Kirribilli House
    • Luna Park
    • Buildings facing Circular Quay
    • Blues Point Tower
  • Melbourne
    • The Arts Centre
    • Rialto Towers
    • Luna Park (St Kilda)
    • Melbourne Aquarium
    • The Jam Factory
    • Federation Square
    • Melbourne Town Hall
    • Melbourne Zoo
  • Adelaide
    • Adelaide Town Hall
    • Adelaide Central Markets
    • Victoria Square Fountain
    • The Advertiser building
    • Hilton Adelaide.
  • Brisbane
    • Casino
    • Story Bridge
    • City Hall
    • Victoria Bridge
    • William Jolly Bridge
    • Brisbane Square
    • A number of State Government parliamentary buildings
  • Perth
    • The WACA (WA Cricket Ground)

United States

  • Atlanta
    • Coca Cola Headquarters
    • Georgia Aquarium (world’s largest aquarium)
  • Chicago
    • Sears Tower
    • John Hancock Building
    • Soldier Field (home of Chicago Bears football)
    • Boeing Headquarters Building
    • Merchandise Mart
    • Drake Hotel
    • Chicago City Hall
    • C N A Building
    • Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building
    • Chicago Theater Marquees in downtown
    • Hard Rock Cafe
    • Marquee at Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs).
  • San Francisco
    • San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
    • San Francisco Bay Bridge
    • San Francisco Town Hall
    • Head offices of USA IT partner Hewlett-Packard Company (Palo Alto, CA).
  • Phoenix
    • City government buildings


  • Toronto
    • All City of Toronto Buildings
    • CN Tower
    • Ontario Science centre
    • Ontario Place
    • Honest Ed’s
    • Toronto Eaton Centre


  • Dublin
    • Office of Public Works
    • Non-essential lights of Government buildings
    • Customs House
    • Dublin City buildings


  • Tel Aviv
    • Azrieali Tower
    • City Hall building and all hotels

The World’s Largest Garbage Dump

World's largest garbage dumpIf I told you the world’s largest garbage dump was almost twice the size of continental United States would you believe me?

Well, that’s how big the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the collective name for two gigantic masses of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. The two masses are known as the Western Pacific Garbage Patch and the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been described as a “plastic soup”. It consists of about 100 million tons of garbage, extending up to 100 feet below the surface, all being held together by the swirling currents of the ocean. The mammoth garbage patch is a result of general litter from both sea vessels and land. Here’s an animation showing the movement of the currents surrounding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer, has compared it to a living entity, “moving around like a big animal without a leash”. Ebbesmeyer, who has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years, says that when the animal comes close to land “…the garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic”. Some beaches in Hawaii have been known to be buried in 10 feet of plastic garbage!

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, an American oceanographer. He came across it by chance while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. After steering into the North Pacific gyre, he found himself surrounded by garbage. Not just a little bit of garbage, but a virtual continent of garbage. All day, every day, for about a week, his vessel sailed through a sea of garbage. Moore said “Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by”.

Following this alarming discovery, Moore sold his oil business and became an environmental activist.

What’s being done about it?

Unfortunately, many scientists believe that it’s pretty much impossible to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They have also said that attempts to do so could actually do more harm to plankton and other marine life. In any case, the US government recently passed legislation to increase funding so that more clean up work can be done.

Image courtesy of Greenpeace

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