Tomorrow night (March 28) is “Earth Hour” — a campaign to raise awareness of global warming by turning off your lights for one hour, from 8:30-9:00 PM local time.

It’s an interesting idea, but a weird one. For one thing, global warming seems an odd fit. Yeah, there’s a connection, but it seems more directly tied to pollution and simple conservation of finite resources. For another, it really reminds me of those campaigns to protest gasoline prices by not buying gas on a particular day, without changing your driving habits.

Then there’s the fact that it’s presented as a “global election between Earth and global warming.” Not only is this silly, it’s also the kind of black-and-white with-us-or-against us thinking that just polarizes people — and indeed there are a bunch of jackasses running around shouting about how they’re going to turn on every single light in their house during that hour just to piss off the “treehuggers.” (Apparently these people have money to burn even in this economy, and enjoy breathing smog.)

And of course, there’s the question of what to do with that hour.

Does it count if you leave the house? Chances are you’d be turning the lights off anyway.

How about non-electric lighting? A candlelit dinner, perhaps? You’re still consuming resources to produce light. A flashlight would have the same problem: you’re using power that was put into a battery.

So that cuts out things like reading, or playing cards, or board games.

TVs and computer monitors produce light. Music players use electricity. A stove uses either electricity or gas. If you turn off the lights and turn on the TV, that’s not really much of a savings, is it?

So really, you have one hour at home in the dark, at an hour earlier than you’re likely to sleep, and you can’t use anything with light or electricity. That really cuts back on available activities. You’re pretty much down to conversation. Maybe stargazing. A few other things that don’t require light.

Actually, I guess it would be an interesting experiment/reminder of what night is like without artificial lighting — sort of a voluntary power outage without candles and flashlights.

The more lasting impact will be to simply not waste energy. Turn off lights when you’re not using them. Turn off your computer when you’re not using it (or at least put it to sleep). Unplug appliances that have standby modes when you’re out of town. Don’t run your heater or air conditioner when you’re not home, unless you’ve got it on a timer to get the place ready for when you arrive.

You’ll save money on your electric bill. The power company will use less fuel. They’ll pump out less pollution, and reserves will last longer. Everyone wins.

(Found while surfing Blogexplosion.)

Spotted this store in Costa Mesa.

I didn’t have time to take a closer look, but from what I can see online, they appear to be focused on making and selling environmentally-friendly clothing made from recycled materials, overstocked fabrics, etc.

Their website doesn’t say, but I imagine the name is a response to the overly brand-conscious nature of today’s fashions. (Ironically, it’s turning “generic” into a brand itself.)

[Water Cooler]If you work in an office, chances are there’s a water cooler somewhere. And if there’s a water cooler, chances are there’s a stack of disposable paper cups (or possibly, even in this age, styrofoam). And chances are that most people will walk up, grab a paper cup, take it back to their desk and then throw it away.

Of course, all those paper cups end up in a landfill somewhere. And there’s the material to manufacture them (even if it’s recycled). And there’s the energy that went into manufacturing them.

So why not reuse that paper cup if you’re only using it for water? It’ll dry out between uses, so the water shouldn’t seep through the wax. If you have, say, one glass of water a day, and you use the same cup for a week, you’re cutting down your paper cup usage by 80%.

Or better yet: do you have a coffee mug? You need to wash it out anyway before you put more coffee in (unless you’re keeping it full all day long). Why not wash it out earlier, and use the mug when you want some water?

Sure, it’s less convenient than walking past the lunch room and grabbing a new paper cup. But let’s face it: you work in an office. And Americans, on the whole, don’t get enough exercise. You might as well take advantage of the extra activity for some incidental exercise.

Had lunch at South Coast Plaza yesterday. (And yes, they had the ceiling stars of doom up again.) When I was a kid, it was just a mall, but over the years it’s evolved into an ├╝ber-trendy mall full of designer stores that supposedly attracts tourists from all over. A few months ago they opened a Bloomingdale’s.

At said Bloomingdale’s, I saw a T-shirt with a list of things one can do to protect the environment. Recycle, use less water, turn off electronics when not in use, drive less, etc. Just for kicks, I looked at the price tag: $62.

So basically, it’s a shirt that discourages conspicuous consumption, but buying it is conspicuous consumption.

Oddly enough, when I wanted to show it to Katie, I couldn’t find the display. The floor is divided into tiny little nooks for each designer, all identical except for contents, and while I probably just couldn’t find the right section, I had the disturbing sense that someone had come in behind me and replaced the T-shirt display with a shelf full of jeans. ($175 jeans, of course.)

I was able to find the display of T-shirts with Transformers, various super-heroes, Ghostbusters and other graphics that ran from about $38 to $45. These would go for $15–25 in most places. I also saw several people wandering around the mall wearing these Ghostbusters T-shirts, and I had to wonder how many of them were wearing them because they had fond memories of the film or cartoon, and how many were wearing them because they were on sale at Bloomingdale’s.

Dry lot in Irvine SpectrumOver the last week or so, newspapers and radio announcements have been proclaiming that California is experiencing drier than usual conditions, already using its reserves for day-to-day living, and we should really start saving water now.

Finally.

We really could have used this campaign earlier in the year. We knew by the end of spring that it had been a really dry season. There were articles in the newspapers, though they weren’t screaming for attention on the front page. Water districts were aware of it. Or, if you’re the sort to pay attention to such things, you might have noticed that the hills still hadn’t turned green by April.

But ads on the radio, encouraging people to conserve, plugging a website with water-saving tips?* I didn’t hear a single one until a few days ago.

I grew up in California in the 1980s, during which we had some really wet years followed by a major drought. It never got really bad where I was, but I remember a lot of little things that changed. Before, restaurants would set down one glass of water for each person, as soon as they showed you to your table. Afterward, they asked whether you wanted water. They taught us water-saving tips in school, like not leaving the water running while you brush your teeth, or taking what they called “navy showers”—turning off the water in the middle of the shower, when you’re not actually using it.

I’ve been looking around some sites on water conservation, and so many of the tips are things I remember from 20 years ago.

Mt. Saddleback viewed from Tustin foothills

It seems like the population has been slowly forgetting these water-saving habits. Or maybe we’ve just had enough people come in from other areas that don’t have them. In the last few years, I’ve seen some restaurants plopping down those glasses of water without asking. I’ve seen people hosing down sidewalks. And while I turn the water off when I brush my teeth, I went back to normal showers years ago (though lately I’ve made an effort to keep them short).

And now, suddenly we’ve got a crisis on our hands.

A lot of the standard tips aren’t massive inconveniences. They’re simple tactics: Water your lawn in the morning, so that the water doesn’t evaporate before it has a chance to seep in. Fix leaks. Keep your showers short. Don’t toss stuff in the toilet that can go in the trash can. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean the sidewalk. These are things we should be doing all the time, not just when things get bad enough to start tossing around the “d” word.

Something to think about when things settle back to normal. Well, as normal as they get around California, anyway.

*According to the whois record, bewaterwise.com has been around for 4 years.

Posted as part of Blog Action Day.