Small green gestures can add up to save the world

<p>This image provided by the Smithsonian Institution shows streetlights on <a id=Earth at night. A dark blue layer was added to the image to show where land masses are located. European cities are especially bright, and in Egypt, lights glitter along the Nile.  |  AP Photo/Smithsonian

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This image provided by the Smithsonian Institution shows streetlights on Earth at night. A dark blue layer was added to the image to show where land masses are located. European cities are especially bright, and in Egypt, lights glitter along the Nile.  |  AP Photo/Smithsonian

I’d like to keep you in the dark — but just for an hour.

It’s time again this weekend to turn off the lights for Earth Hour, a symbolic show of shared concern for the planet. While we’re at it, let’s power down the laptop, the flat-screen TV, the iPad and the espresso machine, along with anything else we can do without for an hour. It’s just an hour, scheduled for 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday. You’ll know the time has come when the little white lights that adorn trees year-round in the downtown Naperville shopping district go dark.

“By asking individuals, cities, landmarks and business to turn their non-essential lights off for one hour and commit to reducing their environmental impact, we are showing everyone that the world’s environmental issues don’t have to overwhelm us,” states the World Wildlife Fund, which came up with the idea of Earth Hour, on its website. “Small things we do every day can make a better future. Join the movement and make your commitment to a better planet.”

Of course, this yearly ritual doesn’t reverse the steady rise in the earth’s temperatures, which an overwhelming proportion of the research — more than 99 percent of the peer-reviewed studies done between 1991 and 2012 — suggests we have accelerated with our fondness for fossil fuels and other bad habits. It doesn’t clean up the air or make everybody’s water everywhere safe to drink.

But it sends a message. And sometimes that does a lot.

It’s easy to distract ourselves from things we don’t want to think about. Take our trash, for example — please. According to Keep America Beautiful, U.S. residents generate an average of 4.4 pounds of garbage every day. That adds up, people, if we don’t take small steps to keep part of that trash out of the places we’ve set aside to entomb our refuse; landfill space is not infinite.

That’s what it’s about: small steps.

When the good citizens of Naperville were asked in 2012 what they thought the city was doing well, their perception of municipal efforts to encourage recycling had taken a dip. A survey in 2011 found that less than 30 percent of the city’s garbage was being detoured away from landfills, a barometer known as the diversion rate. The figure appears to have fallen since then; last year, the city’s households recycled 66 pounds of their discards per month, which was five fewer pounds than they processed two years earlier. The diversion goal is 40 percent, and a lot of Naperville’s neighbors — including Lisle, Warrenville, Downers Grove, Woodridge and Wheaton, where more than 43 percent of the waste stream is diverted — are doing a lot better.

Sometime later this year, residents will begin using rolling carts that make recycling easier. City officials have yet to finalize a decision as to whether, or how much, residents will have to pay for the vessels; it isn’t likely to be a lot. Yes, they’ll be a little more bulky than the open bins now used for collecting stuff, but their wheels will make them easy to move around, and their lids will keep paper from blowing all over the neighborhood. I have one. It does those things. And there will be sizes as small as 32 gallons, for households that don’t think they came come up with 95 gallons’ worth of stuff to recycle in a week.

Here’s another little thing you can do that could add up to making a big difference, if a lot of us do it: pick up a rain barrel to collect what comes from the sky, so it can hydrate the things you plant this spring. We know that Mother Nature isn’t above pulling a fast one on us, so there’s no assurance that we won’t see a drought over the upcoming gardening season. And who doesn’t like a break on the water bill? From now through April 24, the city is partnering with the Park District and the Conservation Foundation to offer the barrels for $58.50, along with an assortment of other eco-friendly garden gear. For an additional five bucks, they’ll drop the barrel off at your house.

But for now, let’s turn off some lights, shall we?

And if you want to know more about what the city is doing to make green the new black, go to If you’d like to pick up a rain barrel, information about that can be found at