Lights off for Billiken power hour

On Apr. 18, 1977, President Jimmy Carter delivered a speech in which he outlined 10 principles for citizens to follow in order to beat the late ’70s oil crisis. The cornerstone was principle six: Reduced demand through conservation.

Nowadays, Carter’s plan isn’t looking so bad. On March 28, 2009, a worldwide event called Earth Hour re-popularized energy conservation. Its founders called people worldwide to “vote with the light switch” by shutting off the lights between the hours of 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on March 28.

Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia on March 31, 2007, when the city of 2.2 million shut off its lights for one hour to take a stand against climate change. In 2008, the event went global and included the participation of 35 countries and more than 370 cities across the planet.

Saint Louis University was quick to jump on this international bandwagon in 2009. On Saturday night, SLU shut off the big blue lights around campus: The neon Saint Louis University sign on Gresideick Hall, the Chaifetz Arena sign and the Doisy Medical Center’s giant Fleur de Lis.

Earth Hour is clearly an effective move for SLU’s public relations department. Participation in the event is an easy way to nominally support the environment. This reflects efforts like SLU’s revamped recyling program and Environmental Task Force.

But on a practical level, Earth Hour is nothing more than a symbol of commitment.

Turning the big lights off at SLU may have saved a little energy, but it won’t affect climate change in the least.

There are better things to do to save energy-turning a thermostat down by three degrees saves 10 percent from the average home energy bill. Unplugging cell phone chargers from the wall when not in use would save 95 percent of the energy wasted on those devices, according to

Yes, Earth Hour is only a symbol. But that’s precisely what it was intended to be. Earth hour is not a practical measure, but a motivational event meant to inspire real energy conservation.

The event’s organizers, as well as SLU event planners, must make sure that they follow through with the commitment they endorsed Saturday. Otherwise, Earth Hour will become a feel-good public relations move instead of the inspiring environmental jumpstart it’s meant to be.