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Earth Hour: A little … underwhelming

I was really excited about Earth Hour this year. I’m a fan of all things that involve candlelight and helping the environment (especially when they’re as easy as switching off your lights for an hour) and I thought Cape Town would jump on the bandwagon.

In fact, I was so certain that Cape Town would jump on the bandwagon that I dragged my man from a friend’s braai to a lookout point so that we could see the Grand Switch-Off. We weren’t the only ones with this bright idea — Signal Hill, Cape Town’s premier lookout point which gives you a panoramic view of the city, was blocked off because there were so many cars lining its roads. And Table Mountain, where we found a spot, was full of people who’d made a special journey to see the city plunge into darkness at 8.30pm.

There was a really lovely atmosphere — a tangible excitement as people found parking spots, hopped out of their cars, set up video cameras and tucked into the baskets of snacks they’d brought along for the show. Here it is! I thought. A real Earth Hour.

8.25pm … 8.29pm … 8.30pm and the first building went dark. “Did you see that?” I asked my man excitedly. He had. Then the large red Absa light, a beacon for Capetonians living in the City Bowl, went out. Very cool. And then another building! And then? Nothing. 8.35pm … 8.39pm …. 8.41pm … and nothing. That was it. The rest of the city remained ablaze. Everyone waited around hopefully for another couple of minutes but it was obvious that that was the show. It had ended not with a bang but a whimper.

And so a whole heap of disgruntled earth lovers headed down the mountain and back to their dark homes. (Yes, I am well aware of the irony of using extra petrol and sitting in a traffic jam to get to a lookout point for an environmental “moment”. I had a little giggle when I saw a cluster of Earth Hour fans huddled under a streetlight looking out over the city and waiting for it to turn out its lights.)

Now, there are a number of reasons why Earth Hour was such an underwhelming sight. Most of the orange city lights are municipal and it must cost a lot to switch them on and off. Eskom probably begged them not to because of the resultant power surge. Also, even if individuals in their flats switched their lights off, there are those automated passageway lights that remain alight. And there’s the safety issue, of course. Hell, maybe some people forgot about it and only realised the next day.

Which is why my suggestion for next year is for the City of Cape Town to fire the Noon Gun or set off a few dozen fireworks from a high place, so that the whole city can tell that now it is Earth Hour, unplug and switch off, or else! A bit of extra awareness wouldn’t go astray, either.

What do you think might help?

(This blog was first published at