COLUMBIA — Columbia residents and businesses will participate in an hour of symbolic darkness on Saturday, March 23, by turning off lights and electronics in observance of the global Earth Hour event.
Mayor McDavid has issued a proclamation encouraging residents to power down for the event, which will occur internationally from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.
"It does send a message when you power off," said Monta Welch, president of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition. "It's like you're voting with your light switch."
Welch said the event, in addition to saving energy, is a chance to send a message of community support for environmental and sustainability issues "in solidarity with folks around the world."
The World Wildlife Fund began Earth Hour in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, and it became international the next year. Welch brought the event to Columbia in 2008, and participation has increased since then.
"Every year we do a little bit more," said Barbara Buffaloe, sustainability manager for the City of Columbia.
Last year's event reduced Columbia's electricity usage by two megawatts, which is equal to the amount of power 80 homes use in one day, according to Columbia Water and Light.
Restaurants, businesses, elementary schools and households participate in the event.
"We have a lot of families that participate," Buffaloe said. While Buffaloe was speaking at a middle school about the event, one student told her his family participates each year by turning off all the lights and telling ghost stories by candlelight in their living room.
Earth Hour falls on MU's spring break, so the university will hold an earlier event on March 21, Buffaloe said. MU will turn off the lights at landmarks such as Jesse Hall and the MU columns. Ben Datema, environmental leadership advisor, is organizing groups to walk around campus and turn off lights that aren't being used.
Thursday will also include a kickoff event at the Daniel Boone City Building. Several educational events, such as forums and documentaries, will be held throughout the week to inform the community about environmental issues.
Columbia Transit is celebrating the event by offering free rides to encourage residents to reduce their environmental impact by using public transportation. City buses will be free on Thursday, March 21, and Saturday, March 23.
"The idea is to take that hour and expand upon it," Buffaloe said. "You get ideas for how to continue doing these types of activities."
Welch hopes Earth Hour will make people consider how green their lifestyles are.
"It's just taking that moment to think about your impact on the Earth and trying to apply it to maybe more than just this 60 minutes in March," Buffaloe said.