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Bangkok turns lights out to highlight global warming

By AFP (Agence France Press) - May 9, 2007

Thailand’s capital turned the lights out Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness of global warming, with six Bangkok neighbourhoods plunged into partial darkness for 15 minutes.

Officials urged two million of the city’s residents to join businesses and government offices in switching off non-essential lights at 7:00 pm (1200 GMT) to alert Thais to the ill-effects of climate change.

At downtown shopping mall Central World Plaza, Thais put away their credit cards for a moment to ponder their energy consumption, as neon billboards and garishly-lit shop windows were dimmed.

“I consume a lot of energy at home, for example I turn my television on while spending two hours on the Internet,” said 18-year-old student Sarita Phumvichit. “From now on, I will turn off the TV.”

There was only partial darkness in Bangkok’s central shopping district, with some malls and hotels ignoring the request, but it was enough to make business owner Somsak Thanyatote think about his energy habits.

“I will turn off the air conditioner and use the electric fan or open the windows instead,” the 58-year-old told AFP.

It was not just the central shopping area that was unusually dim. Darkness also fell on the neon-lit avenues of Chinatown, Khao San road backpacker district, downtown Silom business area and two other restaurant-packed roads.

Street lights and other security-related lighting remained on to thwart possible attacks, with Bangkok still on edge after deadly bombings on New Year’s Eve and a small blast last weekend, governor Apirak Kosayodhin said.

“Only non-essential lights need be turned off,” he told the Bangkok Post.

“These include billboard lights, decorative lighting at department stores and in shopfront windows, and some lights in households. There will also be extra police on duty to prevent crime,” he said.

Bangkok, with a population of 12 million, spews more than 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air each year, or nearly 20 percent of Thailand’s total CO2 emissions.

The Thai capital was last week host to a meeting of the UN’s top body on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The panel’s much-publicised report said that nations have the money and the technology to save the world from the worst ravages of global warming, but they must start acting immediately to succeed.

Bangkok’s lights-out campaign included a public screening in a downtown shopping district of the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” by former US vice president Al Gore.

Australian city Sydney held a similar exercise in April, with a one-hour blackout observed by 65,000 homes and 2,000 businesses, which organisers estimated cut normal energy use by 10 percent.