Students walking around campus between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. last Saturday night may not have noticed that GW was participating in Earth Hour, an annual event that asks participants across the globe to shut off all non-essential lighting for one hour.
Though GW’s Office of Sustainability urged the GW community to participate in Earth Hour and created an event in University Yard in support of the environmental movement, very few campus buildings went dark and only a handful of students showed up to the event.
Poor weather may have contributed to the low turnout at University Yard, but a survey of campus buildings showed little University participation in Earth Hour. With the exception of Columbian Square, most of the Marvin Center remained lit, almost no lights in Gelman Library were shut off, Kogan Plaza ground lamps remained on and very few parts of Duques Hall went dark.
University President Steven Knapp’s house did go completely dark, but Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, admitted the University’s participation could have been improved.
“There’s a lot of different nuances,” she said. Chapple-Brown noted that most of the Marvin Center could not be shut off because a “Battle of the Bands” event needed the lighting. Safety concerns also prevented the University from shutting off many other lights on campus, she said.
Chapple-Brown said her office is looking for ways to improve Earth Hour for next year, and encouraged all students to develop their own ways to make a “bolder statement” on climate change. She also said the University did not have much time to put an extensive plan together.
“There are a lot of people who made this happen in a very short time frame,” she explained.
Though some suggested Earth Hour was inefficient because its actual environmental impact was minimal, Joe Pouliot, a spokesman at the World Wildlife Foundation, said the event was symbolic in nature. The purpose of Earth Hour is not to save energy, but to “send a visual message” in an effort to “build public support that will lead to political action,” he said.
Pouliot said 2009 is a critical year to take action since climate change is occurring more rapidly than most scientists originally predicted.
“If we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to take action now,” he said.