Tonight is Earth Hour, when people across the world turn off all their lights and electronic devices (except the necessary ones – I don’t think you’re required to unplug the freezer) from 8:30 to 9:30 local time. This is meant to generate awareness about climate change and conservation. It’s really more of a symbolic action, to my understanding – I doubt it adds up to a significant dip in carbon emissions – but I take part anyway. I find that a lot of interesting conversations begin when there’s nothing to do but sit in the dark.
It was during the second official Earth Hour, when I was sixteen years old, that I agreed to babysit for friends of the family. Great, I thought, how am I going to get a five-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl to sit in the dark for an hour? I ended up turning it into a camping game, which was really fun. We made a tent out of chairs and blankets, ate popcorn, and played with a flashlight powered by a hand crank.
The girl was too young to understand the purpose of sitting in the dark – she just liked waving the flashlight around – but I talked to the boy a bit about why we were doing this. I told him how we needed to take care of nature, because it can be damaged if we don’t treat it well, and that can come back to bite us. I explained the purpose of recycling: “You can make paper out of trees, but you can also make paper out of old paper, and that way you don’t have to cut down any trees.” His face just lit up, and he said, “Oh! I get it now! Well, we should do more of that!” which was really great to hear.
Halfway through the hour, the kids went to bed, and I sat in the dark on my own until 9:30, when I turned the lights on and started to do homework. And that was the end of it…or so I thought.
Apparently, at some point during that hour, a neighbour had noticed that the house was in darkness and flashlights were waving around. He thought there was something wrong with that situation, and came over to knock on the door, but we were in the basement in our tent and didn’t hear him. So then he called the police.
It was 11 pm by the time they showed up. Suddenly someone was pounding on the door, and I, convinced that someone was trying to break in, was terrified. I froze in my seat, and contemplated hiding under the desk, but whoever was at the door refused to go away. Eventually I crept over to a side window and looked outside, where I saw a police car.
My first thought when I opened to the door to two police officers was, “Who got in a car accident? My family, or the kids’ parents?” The concept of police coming to investigate a house that had its lights off was completely foreign to me.
“It’s Earth Hour,” I said when they told me why they were there. They replied, “Yeah, we know, but we have to answer all our calls.” They took my name and my birth date, so this incident must be mentioned somewhere in the city police records. I imagine there is a note next to my name saying, “Attempted to indoctrinate children with environmentalism.”
Luckily the kids didn’t wake up, but they heard about the incident later from their parents. I still babysit these kids, albeit less frequently now that I’m in university, and the boy often asks, “Can we turn off all the lights again? I want the police to come. That would be fun.”
You made my day!
Reminded me of October 4, 1957, the day the Soviet Union put Sputnik 1 in orbit right over our heads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_1 I’d just turned 14. Back then everyone was taking the threat of nuclear annihilation seriously, and we regularly practiced http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_and_cover under our desks. At that time our rockets were blowing up on the launch pad and falling into the ocean, and we knew the Soviets were years ahead of us.
Check out the movie October Sky http://www.homerhickam.com/movies/ Homer Hickam was also 14 on that day. According to the movie he had more talent and gumption than I did. My only accomplishment was to write a report about Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard. http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/about/history/dr_goddard.html
What amazes me is that (unreliable, energy consuming, and heavy) vacuum tubes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_tube were very much in use in the 1950s and 1960s when the space race was heating up. http://history.nasa.gov/moondec.html I received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1967 with a major in communication electronics. Most of the courses at that time involved designing with vacuum tubes, because transistors and integrated circuits were quite new. The Apollo computers back in the late 1960s had clock rates on the order of one MHz. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Guidance_Computer http://www.klabs.org/richcontent/Misc_Content/AGC_And_History/AGC_History.htm To get the needed reliability they used tri and quad computer redundancy. It is no wonder that the Saturn V required five million pounds of thrust to get the Apollo off the launch pad.
Hehe, good story!
What a brilliant story, Kate – with an excellent underlying message too. Thanks for sharing it
Great story. Our babysitter “indoctrinated” us with hippie slogans. We drew big signs with balloon lettering and used multiple colours in each letter. Make Love, Not War, Peace (and peace sign). No police showed up though–how boring–some people have all the ‘fun’. :)