Sunday, March 29, 2009

Boulder Earth Hour 2009

Last night something happened called Earth Hour. It's a campaign to show awareness of electricity use by encouraging people all over the world to turn their lights out for an hour between 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM local time.

Being that Boulder is so conscientious regarding environmental awareness, I decided to document this great event. I figured, it would make a dramatic photo and set the example.

Plus, I'm a science guy. So yay, this is an experiment.

I headed up to Flagstaff road. Flagstaff road is a road from town up the hills, having great views of Boulder. I headed ther just after 8:00 PM to get some before-shots. I found a great spot, looked around, and wondered why there weren't droves of other people doing the same. It was cold and there was snow on the ground so maybe that turned people off. But I also wondered if those people weren't aware. I also thought, if they are aware, they wouldn't be a hypocrite, like me, and drive their car up to see this.

So I snapped shots, lots of them. there were a lot of lights to potentially turn off. This was going to be good.

At about 8:25, people start showing up to check it out. I was wrong, it's going to be a mob scene after all. People show up with cameras and set up. We all laugh at each other for thinking the same thing.

8:30 rolls by.

Out went a light close by....but no "black-out" effect that one might expect. Nothing. Minutes pass, still nothing. The chuckles and remarks from the crowd start being shared. One could feel the disappointment wasn't so much as the dramatic scene we expected didn't happen. It was more like the disappointment was that the city of Boulder, couldn't step up and participate in something they are so known for. It felt like the facade of Boulder's pro-environmental image fell down.

Here are two photos: Top is before and bottom is during Earth Hour. It's hard to tell the difference. I would think for a awareness campaign, the differences should be dramatic.

Boulder Earth Hour 2009

To really see what is going on, I ran a difference filter of the two images in photoshop. What this shows is what is different (for you computer science people, it's an exclusive OR). If the images were exactly the same, the shot would be black. If there is a light turned on or off, it will show up as a light. Thus if there was a blackout, the difference would look like the image with all the lights on. The brighter the difference image, the more lights that were turned off. This image indicates that very few lights were turned off--you can basically count them. The blue streaks, I believe, are cars on the roads. BTW, the difference filter is sensitive to noise so even those subtle bright spots might just be errors in the intensity differences between each shot due to vibration or camera effects.


Just to be complete, it's certainly possible this experiment has problems.
Possible reasons for hardly any difference:

1. My exposures didn't convey the actual number of lights that went out even though the difference image shows that.

2. People turned their lights off far ahead of time and I am actually photographing a really dark city (even though it didn't seem that way to my eye), making it look like there are more lights than there are normally.

3. People got the time wrong and didn't start till 9:00 PM.