Cities unplug for Earth Hour

the Associated Press

LONDON -- Europe's best known landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and Rome's Colosseum, fell dark Saturday, following Sydney's Opera House and Beijing's Forbidden City in a global climate change protest, as lights were switched off across the world to mark Earth Hour.

In the United States, the lights went out at the Empire State Building in New York, the National Cathedral in Washington, and the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, among many other sites. Even the Las Vegas Strip went dark.

Millions turned off lights and appliances for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. in a gesture to highlight environmental concerns and to call for a binding pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This year's was the fourth annual Earth Hour, organized by the World Wildlife Fund.

"I think it's great to see that hundreds of millions of people share this common value of lowering our carbon footprint," said Dan Forman, a spokesman for WWF in Washington.

About 4,000 cities in more than 120 countries, starting with the remote Chatham Islands off the coast of New Zealand, voluntarily switched off Saturday to reduce energy consumption, though traffic lights and other safety features were not affected, organizers said.

"We have everyone from Casablanca to the safari camps of Namibia and Tanzania taking part," said Greg Bourne, CEO of WWF in Australia, which started Earth Hour in 2007 in Sydney.

The lights stayed on at the White House, the Capitol, and the Lincoln and Washington monuments, though they were switched off at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Portrait Gallery.

In Italy, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and buildings across Germany went dark.

"It's saying to our politicians: You can't give up on climate change," said Debbie Chapman of WWF in Britain.

Buckingham Palace and the British Parliament building were scheduled to go dark, along with other London landmarks, including St. Paul's Cathedral, and Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

"Tackling climate change is urgent and vital to both safeguard our environment and our children's future. We can make a difference if we act now and act together," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who switched off lights at his Downing Street residence.

Rome switched off the lights of the Trevi Fountain, the 18th century landmark where many tourists flip a coin in hopes of coming back to the city. Moscow's imposing State University, perched on a hill overlooking the city, all but disappeared into the darkness.

Giant panda Mei Lan led events in 30 Chinese cities, walking onto a platform amid dimming lights in her enclosure at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in Sichuan province, said Chris Chaplin of WWF in China. Lights also were turned off in Beijing's imperial palace the Forbidden City.

Researchers at the Davis Station in Antarctica also joined the campaign, shutting off lights at the base.

"Tonight, hundreds of millions of people are raising their voices by turning out their lights," said WWF Director-General James Leape. "It is a simple act but a powerful call to action."