UT switches off the lights for ‘Earth Hour’

Jasmin Sun

The lights were dimmer than usual Saturday night at the UT Tower.

To promote environmental awareness, the University delayed the normal lighting time of the Tower an hour later until 9:30 p.m. in honor of the fifth-annual Earth Hour.

Lighting at Whitaker Fields and Tennis Courts, Clark Field and Basketball Courts, and the Penick-Allison Tennis Center were also delayed.

“The University is excited when it can collaborate with area partners, especially when they have a common purpose like energy conservation,” said UT director of sustainability Jim Walker. “Especially since Earth Hour is an international thing because UT is an international entity.”

Many Austinites turned off their lights for an hour at 8:30 pm Saturday to promote environmental awareness for Earth Hour. UT participated by delaying the lighting of the Tower and several athletic facilities.

Earth Hour is a global event urging individuals and businesses to turn off their lights for one hour to take a stand against climate change. UT took part in the event during its initial launch in 2007. Many buildings and businesses across the city also observed Earth Hour, including the Frost Bank Tower.

“The last couple of years the entire University has been trying to take part in lots of recycling and sustainability efforts,” said Merrick MyCue, assistant athletics director of special events and stadium operations. “So getting the athletics department involved was a natural step. When Jim emailed me, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s participate.’”

The movement began in Sydney, Australia, with 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turning out the lights.

Despite the delay in lighting the iconic UT Tower and several athletics facilities, the amount of electricity actually being conserved is negligible, said Juan Ontiveros, executive director of Utilities and Energy Management.

The University goes through about 40 megawatts of electricity per day on average. If Earth Hour were to extend beyond the Tower and athletics facilities to the rest of the main campus, the wattage saved from one hour’s delay in lighting would be enough to power about 69 typical Austin homes.

“It’s true that we don’t save that much energy,” Walker said. “But it’s more about the awareness-raising aspect than the financial savings.”

To UT Campus Environmental Center director Andrew Townsend, who has personally been participating in Earth Hour since 2008, every little effort to increase awareness helps, regardless of the numbers.

“People always notice that the Tower’s orange, so they’ll definitely notice that the Tower’s off,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a meaningless gesture at all. All the little things add up and will count. Any way we can make a small difference or a talking point is a small win.”

Walker is currently working to delay the Tower’s lighting again on April 1, which is Earth Day.