04/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earth Hour? Why Not "Earth Until-We-Figure-This-Out?"

First, a confession: I didn't observe Earth Hour on March 28.

Frankly, my wife and I forgot about it. All but two of our houselights were indeed off -- as they always are when we go out for the evening. But we left a lamp and porch light on just for security and neighborly friendliness, and then went to a neighborhood restaurant (walking -- do we get credit for not taking the car?), where the lights were on as usual.

That said, a thought occurred to me the next morning while reading the coverage of Earth Hour and feeling a bit chagrined that I missed my chance to help make the quick statement about the seriousness of climate change. And it has to do not with our houses, but with the monuments that went dark for an hour: The U.S. Capitol and the Washington Cathedral close to my home, Big Ben in London, the Sydney Opera House.

The thought was this: If human-induced climate change is the threat we believe it is, why do we illuminate these monuments at all? Or, better put, if we want to make more than a fleeting statement about the seriousness of casting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for lighting, why don't the managers of monuments simply stop illuminating them permanently (beyond safety needs, of course), until they can do so using carbon-free power?

That would make a statement that doesn't just get news attention for one hour a year, but every night. It would make for plenty of teachable moments. As in:

"Mommy, why is the Capitol dome so dark every night?"

"Well, dear, those people in Congress haven't yet figured out how to shut down the Capitol Power Plant , which burns coal that causes global warming, and instead use wind and solar power, which won't change the climate."

Then there could be something of a race among the monument managers to secure carbon-free lighting as quickly as possible. Once they had secured that, up again would come the lights -- and their success would be visible to all.

In reality, I doubt that the lighting of the world's monuments contributes that much to global warming. But lighting of all kinds is used to make a statement, as well as for practical illumination. As the world gets more serious about addressing climate change, maybe the people who illuminate monuments -- and for that matter celebrity events, theaters, professional sports and the like -- can ponder ways they can dim the lights for the sake of the planet. Or at least for educating the rest of us about the planet.

Just a thought, maybe a hypocritical one, from one who couldn't even remember to darken the house for Earth Hour.