Lights go out as Earth Hour hits: A threat to the NCAA basketball tournament?

More than 100 countries will turn out the lights on March 27 for Earth Hour, casting normally illuminated icons such as Sydney's Opera House and Beijing's Birds Nest into darkness. But expect the NCAA basketball tournament to stay on TV.

Isaac Brekken/AP
The Las Vegas Strip went mostly dark for Earth Hour 2009. But will ecologically minded fans switch off the NCAA basketball tournament?

Earth Hour, otherwise known as your magical look into what Armageddon might look like, hits tomorrow as 125 countries around the globe turn out the lights at 8:30 pm local time to raise climate change awareness.

To the chagrin of basketball fans, that's about the same time West Virginia heads into the final minutes against Kentucky for their "elite eight" game of the NCAA basketball tournament.

But if you absolutely need to keep the television turned on for the game, rest assured that you're in good company.

"I’d be happy to participate," says William Hogan, Harvard's Raymond Plank Professor of Global Energy Policy, who was unaware of Earth Hour until a conversation today with the Monitor. "I’m just trying to determine if it’s going to happen during the NCAA tournament. But it’s turning off the lights, right? Not the TiVo."

More than 800 famously bright sights will turn dark tomorrow, including the Empire State Building, Las Vegas Strip, Great Pyramids of Giza, Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens, Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Elysee Palace and Eiffel Tower in Paris, Beijing’s Birds Nest at the 2008 Olympic park, and Sydney’s Opera House.

Don't expect much participation from developing countries, which can barely keep their lights on anyway. Rolling blackouts in nations such as Cambodia still occur daily and leave portions of Phnom Penh powerless for hours at a time.

In any case, says Professor Hogan, there won't be even a blip in carbon emissions if the developed world turns out it's lights for an hour.

"I think the energy consequences are trivial. It's the symbolism that matters," he says. Most of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, he says, which in turn releases CO2 into the atmosphere and are known to cause climate change.

Reducing climate change won't come from turning out lights, says Professor Hogan, but rather from putting a price on carbon emissions to deter polluters. Such was the initiative of November's Copenhagen summit on climate change, which attempted to produce a binding CO2 emissions reduction agreement amid fast-rising global carbon dioxide emissions.

So what good is having an Earth Hour? Writing for the Guardian, David Nussbaum says the event is important because it will put global attention on climate change; give politicians a mandate to act; and hint at the solution, which is that “a low-carbon future will demand small changes from all of us at home.”

Some 125 countries are expected to take part in the World Wildlife Fund-led initiative, up from 87 countries last year. That included 56 national capitals and eight of the 10 most populated cities on the planet. Capitals and governors’ residencies across the US plan to participate.

You may ask, what am I supposed to do in the dark for a whole hour? Mother Nature Network suggests eating a candlelit dinner, telling stories, looking at old picture albums, or going outside for some stargazing.

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