What a difference a bulb makes? On the 6th of November the 2100 inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly - a small British archipelago just off the mainland – will be asking this and a little more, by switching off for 24 hours all unused electrical apparatus, while measuring online, and in real time, the energy saved. This unique event aims to raise awareness of climate change and energy wastage, whilst showing how easy it is to make a real difference. All this is part of the “Isle of Scilly Earth Summit” that launches this weekend (3/4 October) with talks by islanders from all over the world followed by the energy saving day (E-Day) on the 6th of October.

The summit is the brain-child of ecologist Dr. Matt Prescott, the man behind the “Ban the bulb” project (1) who has now convinced an entire archipelago to participate on an event that shows how significant changes can be achieved – to both the world and our pocket – by sticking to a simple principle - “switch it off when not in use”.

But how does it work? At the zero hours of E-day the whole Scilly archipelago will switch off, for 24 hours, all electricals usually left on standby, and then one family, one school and the islands will have their day energy usage individually measured and compared with the levels from previous days. This is possible because the islands receive electricity through independent cables connected to the mainland. The measurements can be followed in real time on the summit webpage
http://www.e-day.org.uk  where three different meters show the Kilowatts being used by the islands/family/school throughout the day. The day after E-day the energy savings obtained, as well as further ideas to cut unnecessary energy spending will be discussed by Matt Prescott. Simple really.

Furthermore, as a major goal of the project is to win children for climate issues a series of fun energy saving activities throughout the islands are also planned, with the website presenting games and suggestions for the whole family. To Matt Prescott a crucial part of the whole project is really to “inspire other children, schools and communities around the globe to work together”.

But this is not all and on the webpage of the project we can also find meters for the daily UK energy usage and resulting CO2 emissions. And they are strikingly effective. At 4 pm on the 27th of September, while I am writing this, the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />UK has already used since midnight 5 millions KW, releasing as consequence 271 thousand tones of CO2 and building an energy bill of 63 million pounds (around 103 million Dollars or 70 million Euros).  For only sixteen hours of energy usage these are striking values with a dimension that can scare even those among us more aware of the problem.

This is an inspiring and truly original event where thousands of people will come together to pass an important message but the acid test will be the media exposure it manages to obtain. By bringing islanders from all over the world - from Galapagos to Papua New Guinea -  to talk about their reality -one that  to many already means exile from their homelands - Matt Prescott gives a human face to what is happening what no doubt will help.

The timing is also good with the UN Summit on Climate Change in New York just finished. In this meeting - organized in preparation for the December climate talks in Copenhagen – again no real commitments to exact targets on emissions were agreed but this was - with an attendance of about 100 heads of states - the biggest meeting of its kind ever. And one where the faces and voices of those most threatened with the impacts of a warming world were present and heard. The question, as always, is if they were listened to.

During the last century temperatures have risen 0.74 degrees C (1 degree F) leading to a rapid rise of the sea-level and the scientific forecasts are even darker for the future. If the temperature increases a further 2.4 C the South Pacific islands will simply disappear under water, while the Amazon will dry releasing the carbon stored in its plants, and the melting of the ice caps and consequent gas release will all lead to a vicious cycle impossible to stop.

The Copenhagen meeting in December needs to guarantee that, in 2015, global emissions are significantly being reduced, and that by 2050 they are 85% less than now.  How to achieve this is the big issue now. Robert May - the president of the British Royal Society, British Scientific Association and probably one of the most famous ecologists in the world – believes that the answer is in nature. To understand what motivates animals to cooperate can provide the crucial clues on how to bring together the world nations. The implementation of small costs for a greater cooperative benefit and/or punishments are just some of the possibilities. Interestingly though,  a recent mathematical study using game theory tools suggested that the more freedom was given to individuals to behave as they wanted, the bigger was the probability that cooperation emerged (2).

Meanwhile, until this is achieved, initiatives like E-day are all the more important by winning individuals for those crucial everyday changes.   So pass the word.

And what difference a bulb makes? A lot…