by Dennis Dalman
As a boy, Wayne Birkholz used to love the magical wonder of star-gazing nights, when from his bedroom window in Maple Grove, he could watch a zillion stars above him and now and then thrill to a shooting star streaking down the sky.
Birkholz, a St. Joseph resident, is one of many people urging others to shut off their lights for “Earth Hour” between 8:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28.
In the years since his boyhood days, Birkholz began to notice how difficult it was to see stars because of “light pollution,” the haze above cities that blocks out views of the night sky as surely as thick cloud covers do.
To see the same star-studded skies of his youth, Birkholz said it’s necessary to travel far into the countryside, as far north at the boundary waters to revisit the awesome once-upon-a-time night-sky visions.
Recently, Birkholz requested the St. Joseph City Council turn off its city water-tower lights for Earth Hour. The council voted to agree, keeping the tower’s lights off all night long instead of for just one hour. The reason for the extended lights-out is because a worker would have to come to the tower to turn the lights on again at 9:30 p.m. This way, someone can turn them back on the next day during regular work hours.
Birkholz said he was happy with the council’s decision.
“The ultimate goal would be to have them do it (keep the lights off) permanently,” he said in an interview with the St. Joseph Newsleader.
Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia and since then has spread internationally as an annual event on the last Saturday of March. Lights during that hour are extinguished at city halls, city-owned facilities (water towers, for instance), historical landmarks such as the Great Pyramids and the Roman Colosseum and many residences worldwide. More than 7,000 cities now take part in Earth Hour. Some of those cities noticed huge drops in energy demand during that hour. Skeptics, however, have belittled Earth Hour as a “feel-good” effort that doesn’t really do much good at all, ultimately.
Birkholz disagrees. Turning off lights, even for one hour, he said, is a start to get people out of the habit of keeping lights on for no reason whatsoever. He said a walk or drive-around in St. Joseph – to name just one city – will show just how many lights are on foolishly – in homes, businesses and just about anywhere anyone looks.
As a nine-year resident of St. Joseph, Birkholz said he has noticed wasteful lights-on behavior more and more. It’s, in a word, inefficient, he said. What’s more, it does add to needless energy use and, thus, one form or another of pollution, including star-blocking light pollution, he added. He urges everyone to view a satellite image of North America at night so they can see the sheer extent of the wasteful burning of lights.
“Turing out lights for an hour may seem frivolous, like a drop in the bucket,” Birkholz said. “But it does add up.”
He and his wife, Christine Carlysle, have an at-home textiles creation business and sell their products, such as pillow covers and table runners, online. They have two children, ages 10 and 9. His children definitely enter into Birkholz’s concerns about wasteful energy usage, even though he cared deeply about that issue long before he had children.
“I want a good future for my children,” he said. “We need to find a way to change our behavior long-term. We’ve got to learn to be mindful of how we use our finite resources.”
One way, he said, is to shut lights out from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28 to celebrate Earth Hour.
What should people do in the dark?
“Light a candle,” Birkholz suggested. “Then have a conversation.”