Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Lights of the Eiffel Tower

Last night we had a sleepover for my daughter's tenth birthday. Four friends came to stay and indulged in craft activities before consuming a chinese takeaway, watching a Harry Potter movie and lying in bed together talking until two in the morning. All of which has left the rest of us somewhat bleary-eyed with an aftertaste of monosodium glutamate.

One of my daughter's friends is originally from Korea. She produced the painted tray I photographed above in about an hour. I think it's rather great.

It features my favourite Parisian landmark: the Eiffel Tower. While living quite a long way outside of Paris, we are lucky enough to be able to see the Eiffel from our bathroom window. A very small part of the Eiffel Tower: the light on top. It flashes every thirty seconds as it turns round, projecting a beam of light across Paris.

The Eiffel Tower is the reason I have to walk backwards up the Boulevard du Montparnasse when I go some evenings to help with the editing of Upstairs at Duroc at WICE in Paris. If I did not walk backwards, I would not be able to see it glittering beautifully, covered in white fairy lights, in the distance.

On Thursday last week the lights on the Eiffel Tower were turned off for five minutes as a signal of support for environmental organisations that wish to draw public and government attention to global warming. Everyone across France was invited to join in with five minutes of darkness and help support the initiative. Somewhat ironically, the Eiffel Tower itself consumes 7.5 million kWh of electricity a year, 580000 kWh for the illuminations.

The RTE (Reseau de transport d'electricite) were concerned by these actions since they worried that an overproduction of electricity would result when all those lights went out at the same moment, possibly causing a failure of the system.

Most of the electricity in France is produced from nuclear energy, something which remains a matter of sensistive debate. Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has recently pledged to reduce dependence on nuclear from 85% to 50% before 2020, replacing nuclear with renewable energy sources. She does not have the whole-hearted backing of the socialist party (PS), however, where it is generally believed that renewable energy will increase energy costs.

Ecological issues have been brought to the forefront of the 2007 French Presidential race by environmental activitist Nicolas Hulot who has proposed that all of the presidential candidates sign a "Pacte écologique":

• to consider ecological action as a common priority which exceeds political differences and will make France an exemplary country in the area of sustainable development.

• to make the fight against climatic change and the preservation of biodiversity a major public concern.

• to put in place the economic, legal, technological and educational means to adapt or reduce France's consumption as a function of current and future ecological and social demands.

• to immediately launch a fundamental revision of energy politics, transport and agriculture.

• to support the ten objectives and five concrete propositions summarised on the ecological pact site.

The two major presidential candidates: right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy and left-wing Segolene Royal have both publically signed the pact which has also been signed by half a million French citizens.

If the plan were put into action, would the lights on the Eiffel Tower have to be turned off? It would be only one of thousands of difficult choices.

However, the least difficult choices - and the most powerful - are in the hands of individuals themselves. The choice, for example, of whether to buy a fuel-guzzling 4x4 ("quatre-quatre" in France) or a low-consumption car. Sadly, quatre-quatre sales in France are said to now be 'exponential'.

It's not easy to give things up, especially when we are surrounded by media and advertising trying to sell us things. The first thing I would recommend then, is give up the media. Read blogs instead!

And we all have to make sacrifices. Personally, I would be prepared to limit the amount of time the Eiffel Tower lights are turned on to the one evening a week when I travel into Paris to help with Upstairs at Duroc.


Ms Baroque said...

Jonathan, great post. Starting with the tray.

I've been thinking a lot about all this stuff, too - trying to remember to take a shopping bag with me at all times (forget it), turning things off at the socket, keeping the heating either lower or off. I don't have a car. I use low-energy light bulbs in most of my lights. I rarely, rarely travel by plane.

But you know, the concerted social effort you describe - or that the pact proposes - is the only thing, I think, that can make a real difference. I love the lights on the London eye in just the way you describe the Eiffel Tower - we can see it from the kitchen. The craze for civic lighting though - no matter how much we love the lights - has got to be going against the tide of this thinking...

Anyway, interesting, Thanks.

Lesley said...

I received an invitation to this:

Double Change et Le Point Ephémère
vous invitent à une lecture bilingue de poésie


le mardi 20 février à 19h

au Point éphémère
salle de danse (accès côté rue)
200 Quai de Valmy, Paris 10e
(M° Jaurès, lignes 2 ou 5)

It's a bit far for me, but I thought you might be interested.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Thank you Ms Baroque.

Yes, politicians can make a difference if they are not afraid of being kicked out of office by angry citizens on whom they have imposed energy taxes.

Although I love the lights on the Eiffel Tower, I realise also that it represents a sort of 'energy grandeur'. Many countries in the world simply would not have the energy resources to perform such a feat.

Generally speaking, we take energy too much for granted. This is why we do not make enough effort towards introducing renewables.

Lesley - Thanks for the tip. Hopefully I'll find time to go along.