Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour at Casa Pfohl

Earth Hour, or Hora do Planeta as it is called in Portuguese, was observed at our house this evening. More or less.

I have no idea how much press this annual event gets where you live, but I suspect it's more than we get in Salvador. I don't think it even got a mention on the evening news. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, go to It's a one hour event where everyone is supposed to turn off their lights to raise awareness about energy consumption and global warming.

I told the family earlier in the week that I wanted to observe Earth Hour, shutting off the lights for "just an hour" Saturday night, and was met with odd looks and skepticism. I don't try very hard to push my pseudo-environmentalist agenda around here anymore, nobody gets it or cares. They've learned that if they throw trash out the window of the car I will get very upset, so they don't do that anymore, but I figure they only restrain themselves for my benefit. I should say that I'm referring specifically to my family and in-laws, although I would be willing to make a gross generalization that Brazilians in general are pretty disinterested in making nice with the environment, there is an environmental movement here and I believe it is picking up steam. I recently discovered that the Linha Verde highway which runs along the coast to the north of the city was initially intended to be a coastal highway, but the plans were redone to keep it something like three kilometers inland. Bravo!

As the lights-out hour approached, 8:30, I almost gave up on the idea. We have a house full of kids and preparations are underway for Lucas' birthday on Monday and it didn't seem real practical to shut everything off. So I decided to do a partial observation. I shut down the computer and turned off all the lights upstairs. Then I went downstairs, and shut everything off except for the lights in the living room, where the kids were, and in the kitchen, where Evani and Ruan's aunt Joelma were making cakes. I explained to Joelma what Earth Hour was about, and her response was "A whole hour??" which is the opposite of my response: "Only an hour? Per year??"

Things went smoothly enough for the first forty minutes- I spent the time grating large bars of chocolate, by hand, eschewing our food processor in the interest of conserving energy. For the hour. Then, as the hour was winding down, I decided to ratchet it up a bit. I found a lone candle in the house, and informed everyone that we would be shutting off all the lights, but only for five minutes. Despite some groans and general statements about the sanity of yours truly, I got my way, so at 9:20 the lights went out for real.

I gave a quick talk about why I was doing this and what Earth Hour was, mostly for the kid's benefits. I explained that all over the world, and even here in Brazil, people were doing the same thing. I asked them if they knew what global warming was and none of them did. That took up about three minutes. As soon as I finished, Evani started talking about her childhood growing up- about how when she was small, they didn't even have electricity in Paripe, and sometimes they didn't even have money for kerosene. She told us that some nights her mother would serve dinner and say "Eat quick, we've only got one candle." This segued directly into spooky, dark-house stories. Evani recounted how her mother once heard a ukulele (the Portuguese word for this instrument is much nicer, cavaquinho) playing by itself as it hung on the wall and another story about Evani's father encountering a man on the road at night who subsequently disappeared. Some of Evani's friends, and Evani herself, have claimed to see people who weren't there in our house and those stories were told as well. The five minutes stretched to ten, then fifteen, and we almost made it to twenty minutes in the dark. I blew out the candle, everyone screamed, and then I turned on the light- Earth Hour was over for the year. Then the funniest thing happened: the kids wouldn't leave the kitchen. They were all completely spooked! It took almost an hour for them to finally work up the courage to go back to the TV in the living room.

Despite my dissatisfaction with some aspects of my life here in Brazil, one thing I feel really good about is the relatively small carbon footprint I have here. I live in the center of the city and can and do walk almost everywhere I need to go. I have a car, but I rarely use it and could live quite easily without it (and may have to shortly if my economic situation continues the way it has been). CFL's are much more popular here than (they used to be) in the US, and I have used them almost exclusively since I moved in four years ago. I don't need to heat my house. I suspect a large portion of my electric bill is due to the use of ceiling fans, but those can be turned on and off when needed, I'm not cooling my whole house all the time. Some of these pieces I put in place via lifestyle choices I made before I moved to Brazil, some were bonuses of living in a tropical climate.

A friend of mine was ruminating on Facebook about the concrete impact, ie energy savings, produced by observing Earth Hour. I doubt it was significant. One hour per year isn't going to do much to combat global warming- it's mostly to raise awareness, and I hope in that respect I did a little something to forward the cause. Now if we were to observe Earth Hour every day, that would be something else. I for one would be prepared to do so, although I think the rest of the family wouldn't be too happy about it.

Maybe next year we'll do a whole hour of ghost stories around the flickering candle.

1 comment:

Mei said...

I wrench trash out of my husband's hand so that it doesn't end up on the ground. . . because if he has it in his hand, and I'm not paying attention, it goes. :( No amount of stern lecturing has done a thing!

An hour of ghost stories sounds great. It's like a double-duty family hour/earth hour.