Lights out: York events look at Earth Hour and beyond

Students at York University will get a jump on Earth Hour 2008 with a series of events tomorrow. These Saturday events include an afternoon Earth Hour information session, hosted by York’s student-run Environmental Outreach Team, and a special evening public viewing in the York Astronomical Observatory.

Earth Hour is an international event that asks individuals, families, businesses and public institutions, to turn off their lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of March 29, from 8 to 9pm local time, to promote electricity conservation and lower carbon emissions.

The afternoon event, which runs from 12:30 to 5pm in Room 140, Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) Building on York’s Keele campus, is free and open to the public. Organized by the Environmental Outreach Team, the event will raise awareness around the significance of Earth Hour and highlight the steps that each person can take to move beyond Earth Hour.

Speakers include Paula Boutis, a litigation lawyer specializing in environmental law, and Pamela Courtot of Powersmiths International. They will discuss green design and development, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System and LEED standards.

Following their presentations, there will be a discussion of greening the HNES Building led by Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Jose Etcheverry. Then Anthony Templer, an elder with the Metis/Ojibuay Nation, will lead a discussion on First Nations teachings and First Nations perspectives on the environment, environmental crises and many other issues. Participants will then embark on a sustainability tour of the Keele campus, with stops at Stong Pond, York’s co-generation plant and a tour of the Computer Science & Engineering Building, a LEED building.

During the evening hours, as a large number of businesses and households in the Greater Toronto Area turn out their lights, the York Astronomical Observatory will hold a public viewing of the stars and planets, which should be clearer (weather permitting) because of the reduced impact of light pollution. The viewing will take place from 7:30 to 9:30pm. York astronomers will take advantage of this time to do some dark-sky stargazing. Join York’s Astronomical Observatory for an extra public viewing session during this event. Visitors will be able to observe various selected celestial objects in the presence of friendly staff in addition to engaging in various hands-on presentations. The observatory will be open regardless of weather conditions, although viewing through the telescope is limited to clear skies. Dress for the weather conditions as the observatory can be quite cool during the evening. Even if it’s a cloudy evening, drop by for a slide show, a planetarium show and a tour featuring both telescopes in the observatory. York’s Astronomical Observatory is located on the third floor of the Petrie Science & Engineering Bldg.

Promoted by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Earth Hour is a very special environmental event, says Leslie Luxemburger (left), coordinator of the Environmental Outreach Team at York University. “It is an event that raises awareness about climate change,” says Luxemburger. “Earth Hour symbolizes that by working together, people of the world can make a difference in climate change.”

Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. In the course of a year, it has grown to include more than 20 cities throughout the world committed to reducing their ecological and carbon footprint, says Luxemburger, a graduate student in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “It raises the awareness about the fate of our planet and of the human species,” he says. “It goes beyond just cities; the event will feature businesses, industries, residents, universities, colleges, schools and communities turning off their lights for one hour. It is truly a collective voice. It is a necessary wake-up call and demands all of us to ‘stop and smell the greenhouse gases’ while we still have the privilege to do so.”

More than 280,000 people from all over the world have officially signed on to the Earth Hour Web site to host events, while millions are expected to turn off their lights. As of yesterday afternoon, 17,644 businesses and public institutions had signed on to participate in Earth Hour by shutting off the lights and turning off computers and non-essential appliances. Organizers of Earth Hour have added extra server capacity yesterday to handle traffic to their Web site.

York University will not be shutting off the lights on its Keele and Glendon campuses due to security and safety concerns, says Keith Marnoch, associate director of media relations. The University runs 24 hours a day and the safety of its students, faculty and staff is paramount. “Students who are safe and sound in their dorm rooms can celebrate Earth Hour by turning out the lights in their residence rooms, or by turning off non-essential small appliances or computers for one hour,” says Marnoch.

The Environmental Outreach Team at York University is an official York club that is committed to actively engaging young minds in elementary and secondary schools across the Greater Toronto Area. Started in 2004, the club works to enhance eco-lteracy skills in students through presentations, visits to elementary and secondary schools, public information sessions such as the Earth Hour event. The team focuses on increasing awareness about climate change, energy conservation and biodiversity.

Visit the Environmental Outreach Team Web site for more information on their activities, philosophy and vision for a greener future.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor