World Monuments Will Go Dark for Earth Hour, But Not in Washington, D.C.

This Saturday, people in more than 80 countries will turn off their lights for an hour to observe Earth Hour.

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From 8:30 to 9:30 on Saturday night, the emblem of the city of light - the Eiffel Tower - will be shrouded in darkness. The Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx will disappear into the night. The marquee lights of Vegas and Broadway will be switched off, as will the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building. Ancient landmarks like the Acropolis and the Colosseum, too, will briefly lose their glimmer this weekend.

The event is Earth Hour - a rolling electricity turn-off organized by the World Wildlife Fund for which more than 2,800 cities in 83 countries have pledged their participation. Monuments, businesses and residences can turn off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time to send a message to world leaders for the 2009 United Nations Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Conspicuously absent from the list above are our great monuments of Washington, D.C. While the city is participating in Earth Hour, it is doing so on a municipal level - the lights of the National Cathedral, Judiciary Square, National Geographic Society Headquarters and many embassies will be going dark, but the lighting for monuments is controlled by the Department of the Interior.

"We've certainly briefed members of the administration, and we know they know about it," said Leslie Aun, spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund. "We are hopeful that they will recognize the importance of participation and the message that it sends to the world. We haven't gotten a reaction or official response."

Earth Hour 2008 was a smaller event worldwide, but garnered more participation from the U.S. government, according to Science Magazine:

Last year, the Bush Administration turned down lights in 127 federal buildings in six states, had a park ranger lead a public Earth Hour event at San Francisco's Golden Gate Recreation Area, and had an EPA official sitting on the Earth Hour steering committee in Chicago.

So far, [the WWF] is aware of two Obama Administration moves: Lights on the Bunker Hill monument in Boston will be dimmed, as will lights on the Department of Energy's Wilson Hall in Batavia, Illinois.

According to Aun, the WWF is still hopeful for the administration's twilight-hour participation. "It's not over til it's over," she said.

The National Park Service has confirmed that it will not participate in Earth Hour, though.

"We must keep those memorials lit because they are national icons. We have a responsibility to provide a safe setting for our visitors, and because the monuments are open 24 hours a day, we didn't think it was wise for safety measures, "said Bill Line, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. "The National Park Service is fully committed to energy reduction, and the lighting systems that we have at the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial, all of which have been replaced in the past few years, have achieved a reduction. We believe that this is a significant contribution."

Same goes for the Statue of Liberty in New York. Line said it is used as a nagivation aid for airplanes and shipping and thus would stay lit. He couldn't speak for any other sites in the United States.

One hour of darkness for some of our brightest buildings conserves a significant amount of electricity compared to what you use in your apartment or home, of course - but overall, it's a drop in the pan. Aun said the World Wildlife Fund hopes that people will focus on the symbolic nature of the event, rather than the energy savings.

"You can turn off all the lights in the world for one hour, and it won't solve climate change," she said. "It is a visual message for the call for action on climate change. That's the power of it."

Updated on 3/27/09

Washington, D.C.

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