Australia basks in Earth Hour's afterglow

(dpa) - The Australian progenitors of Earth Hour said Sunday they were thrilled their lights-off initiative was taken up by millions of householders and businesses around the world.

Earth Hour began its westward progress in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Saturday as lights were shut off for an hour to raise awareness that generating electricity from coal and oil is a big contributor to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

It continued through Sydney, where the normally aglow Harbour Bridge and Opera House faded to black for 60 minutes, and on to Asia, Europe and North America.

The lights guttered across 14 time zones, the last to go the United States west coast where San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was to lose its illuminations.

"When people act together it's the aggregate of their actions that start to make a difference," said World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) spokesman Andy Ridley.

"Even one hour," he said, "it's so tiny, but when you add it all up together and imagine we were able to do that a lot more hours of the day, through the whole year, that's when we start breaking into really serious emission cuts."

WWF staged the first Earth Hour in Sydney last year and has managed to turn it into a global initiative with people in 35 countries agreeing to flick the switch for an hour.

Electricity generating company Energy Australia reported a drop in power consumption of 7-12 per cent in Sydney's city centre over Earth Hour - about the same as last year despite the number of signed up participants doubling.

Hollywood actor Cate Blanchett, director of the Sydney Theatre Company, described Earth Hour as a "grand gesture." Blanchett brought forward the start of Saturday's theatrical performance by 90 minutes so the audience could attend a glittering Earth Hour gala at a restaurant overlooking the harbour that was illuminated by hundreds of candles.

"It's fantastic that an idea as potent as Earth Hour came out of Sydney," the globetrotting Oscar-winner said.

Other restaurants jumped on the bandwagon too, advertising lavish Valentine's Day-style candlelit Earth Hour dinners.

The Australian government embraced the initiative with government departments turning off the lights in public buildings across the country.

"Earth Hour is a way in which individuals can take responsibility when it comes to climate change," Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said.

In Brisbane the famous Storey Bridge dimmed along with apartment buildings and office towers.

"Looking up at the apartments, you could see lights off and candles lit, which was really lovely to see," WWF climate change manager Kellie Caught said. "It gives us hope that people do care about the environment and climate change, and it sends a strong message to government that business and people do want action on climate change."

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