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Conservationists turn to darkness for protest


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 22, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The only lights Helen Warren saw Thursday night were the sun setting over the gulf, the first beams of a new moon and the glow of a tiki torch -- at least between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when she and friends gathered at Fort De Soto Park to observe a blackout planned in protest of national energy policies.

The protest sprang from an e-mail that has been circulating on the Internet for about three months. "The whole idea is that the technology is out there to make better use of natural resources and still live with comforts we're (accustomed) to," Warren said. "The protest is to say that we want those technologies developed."

The e-mail urged people to turn off their lights and unplug appliances during Thursday night's "blackout" hours. It criticized current energy policy for failing to emphasize conservation, efficiency and alternative fuels.

Blackout parties were planned for Thursday across the nation. The e-mail encouraged people to light a candle or tell a ghost story. "Have fun in the dark," it said.

The Suncoast Sierra Club planned to conduct its monthly meeting by candlelight Thursday. Some members who weren't at the meeting will write letters to President Bush by candlelight, said Joe Murphy, Sierra Club conservation organizer.

Murphy would like to see the expansion of solar power discussed as an option for Florida.

"We're worried about expanded offshore drilling, use of nuclear power and reliance on technologies that are no longer as viable as they were 50 years ago," Murphy said.

Bush drew criticism for his decision to expand drilling for oil in 1.5-million acres of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bush hopes to lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but Murphy would point to another option.

"The Honda Insight gets 68 miles per gallon, and it's not that expensive," he said. "Our argument is that that kind of technology exists. They're setting an example we need to encourage others to follow."

The protesters tried to set their own example by leaving their houses dark. "The significance is that one appliance draws a lot of energy," Warren said. We need politicians and industry leaders to realize that people care."

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