By Varun Saxena and Sarah Hogue
WASHINGTON – While some Maryland municipalities are turning off their lights for an hour Saturday in honor of the fifth annual international Earth Hour, counterprotesters are using extra electricity to celebrate Human Achievement Hour.
Human Achievement Hour is an opposing movement organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “Anyone not foregoing the use of electricity in that hour is, by default, celebrating the achievements of human beings,” says the CEI website.
Both events — conserving and squandering — will occur from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
More than 5,200 cities and towns in 35 countries participated in Earth Hour in 2011 to raise awareness of climate change and energy efficiency. It is organized by the World Wildlife Fund. The fund could not be contacted because its Washington, D.C., offices were closed Friday to reduce carbon emissions.
Baltimore City, Williamsport and Greenbelt are among the Maryland cities that plan to participate in Earth Hour and join the worldwide movement to raise awareness of climate change and energy efficiency.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake encouraged city residents to celebrate Earth Hour by turning off all non-essential lighting tomorrow night to reduce the city’s carbon emissions. The Baltimore Aquarium, the Domino Sugar Sign and the USS Constellation are among the Baltimore landmarks that will shut down for the appointed hour.
Williamsport plans to shut off the lights of its gazebo, the Springfield Barn and its community building. To celebrate its first Earth Hour, Williamsport will celebrate with live music and host visitors from the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Council.
“My family seems to really enjoy it so we wanted to see if the town wanted to give it a shot,” said Councilman William Green.
Human Achievement Hour can be celebrated anywhere, but CEI is holding a countercelebration at its headquarters in downtown D.C.
“During the hour, participants are asked to listen to music, surf the Internet, have a glass of beer, and generally enjoy the fruits of the human mind, which would not have been possible in a world where conservation restrains advancement,” says the event’s Facebook page.
Almost 300 people said they will attend on Facebook.
Cheverly resident Michelle Minton, a fellow at the institute, encouraged people to “look and use and enjoy something that required human innovation” during Human Achievement Hour.
She said that restricting energy use hurts people in poor countries and adds to “human misery.”
Minton isn’t against voluntary use of alternative energy but said, “When people try and stop others from using old, proven technology just because it’s a little better for the environment, we just can’t get behind that.”
College Park resident Richard Morrison, a communications manager at the conservative Tax Foundation, plans on attending the countercelebration in downtown D.C.
“I like that HAH presents an optimistic vision of the human condition and rejects the fatalism that often afflicts the environmental movement and ‘Earth Hour’ supporters. HAH encourages us to see human beings as creative, productive and problem-solving,” he said in an e-mail.
He was a Competitive Enterprise Institute employee from 1999 to 2010.
Bruce James, an environmental science and policy professor at the University of Maryland was unable to give an estimate of the amount of energy saved by Earth Hour.
James said the true significance of Earth Hour is symbolic.
“What I think it does, it symbolizes some kind of unity. It makes a point, that we can do this,” he said. “That to me is more important than the actual energy saved.”