Students advocate darkness for ‘Earth Hour’

By Olivia Garber

Some students are working to make Pittsburgh a little darker this Saturday.

Earth Hour, a global energy awareness campaign that began three years ago in Sidney, Australia, encourages people across the world to turn off their lights for one hour to express their concerns about climate change, according to the Earth Hour website.

At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, buildings such as the Empire State Building and Pennsylvania’s state capitol building will turn off their lights in accordance with Earth Hour.

A group of students in the Campaigns for Sustainability class taught by Ward Allebach are working in conjunction with the Pitt student group Free the Planet to bring Earth Hour awareness to the Pittsburgh area. Free the Planet works to “instill a passion for sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy living in Pitt’s student body and beyond through educational events, community service and various action-based campaigns,” according to its website.

Free the Planet had initially campaigned to get the Cathedral of Learning to shut off its lights on Saturday night, but the Cathedral is not one of the buildings that Pitt will shut down.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said the University has plans to shut off “aesthetic lighting” for Earth Hour. This includes the lobby of the Petersen Events Center, which Seth Bush, co-president of Free the Planet, called “a pretty good chunk of energy.”

Kristen Ostermann, a Pitt graduate student and member of the group, said that the group’s goal was to increase energy awareness on campus while reducing the amount of energy spent. The goal is part of the semester project, which required students of the sustainability class to take part in an energy awareness campaign.

“Your homework is to go make a difference,” said Allison Plummer, the teaching assistant for the class.

Students created a Facebook group and used posters and word of mouth to promote Earth Hour. The group plans to continue its project after the sustainability class ends at the end of the month. By next year, it is hoping to start a competition among the dorms at Pitt to see who can save the most energy.

“When people pay a flat rate for their rooms, they don’t care if the lights are on,” junior Adam Cetra said. “They think they’re sticking it to the University by leaving the lights on, but they’re not.”

By doing that, students are “burning coal and contributing to global warming,” Ostermann said.

Melissa Bilec, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said, “There’s a direct relationship between electricity and carbon emission through the production of energy.”

Keeping the lights on might not appear to be detrimental to the environment, but Alexander Dale, director of communications and technology for the national chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, said that the process of producing electricity is largely inefficient and subsequently wasteful. ESW is a national, nonprofit network comprised of students, university faculty and professionals who are dedicated to building a more sustainable world for current and future generations, according to its website.

Most coal plants, which Pennsylvania uses to produce the majority of its energy, initially run at 35 percent inefficiency, Dale said. As the energy moves from the plant to the house to the light switch, it continually loses energy and thus becomes more inefficient. It doesn’t take a lot of physical energy to turn on a light switch, but much of the energy produced by the burning of coal is wasted by the simple task, Dale said.

Turning the lights off could help.

“You save energy because you don’t have to account for all the losses,” Dale said.

While energy will be saved during Earth Hour, Bush said the educational component of the campaign was what the Pitt student organization was focusing on.

“In the grand scheme of things, [Earth Hour] is not much,” Bush said, “but being conscious and turning off your lights every single day — that will make a very big impact.”

Bush and other members of Free the Planet met in a lecture hall in David Lawrence Wednesday night as part of its weekly gathering. The room had sat empty before the meeting, blasted with fluorescent light that no one needed. As soon as Bush entered the room, he turned off the main lights, giving the room a dim glow that befitted the topic of Earth Hour.

“Earth Hour is everywhere in the world, so anywhere you are, it is,” Bush said to the group’s members.

Bush called upon the members to encourage other students to do more than just turn off their lights — unplugging laptops and appliances that aren’t in use is another way of conserving energy.

Bush also joked about taking colder showers as a possible method of conserving energy.

All group members plan to shut off their lights during this time, although sophomore Tubin won’t have to go to too much trouble.

“I’ll be at the Kid Cudi concert. The lights will already be out,” Tubin said.

The students of the sustaining energy class will mainly focus on getting an estimate of how many students participate.

The students plan on using their Facebook group to get an accurate count of who participated. By getting the numbers for this year, the group will then be able to see how much energy was saved, as well as set a goal for next year, Tubin said.

Free the Planet is also looking to the future.

“Our hope is to do an energy awareness campaign after we see how many students participate,” Bush said. “Next year, we want the University to participate in a grander scale and get the whole city on board.”