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A Day of Darkness to Prevent an Age of Darkness

Dispaches From the Future: Earth Day 2012

If by going dark for a day to protest pending anti-piracy legislation, Wikipedia and other sites can cause the US Congress to change course, could they do a sequel about something even more important, such as global warming? James L. Powell imagines how it could work.

April 22, 2012: Earth Day

Thousands of Internet sites are taking part in a “blackout” to protest the lack of government action to prevent dangerous global warming. The most prominent social networking and communication sites went down for 24 hours starting at midnight last night, showing a dark homepage and directing users to the protest movement’s central site.

Included were Facebook, Google, Tumblir, Twitter, Wikipedia and WordPress, which urged the owners of the 72 million sites that use its service to join. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said, “A few months ago we went dark to protest legislation that the U.S. Congress was considering that would fatally damage the free and open Internet.” He continued, “But something much more important than the Internet is at stake: the future of humanity.” Twitter CEO Dick Costelo said, “We declined to join the earlier protest because we thought it was foolish to close a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics. But global warming threatens all businesses and all peoples.” He summed up, “Twitter is in.”

By the end of the day, President Barack Obama, surrounded by the senior members of his party and a surprising number of Republicans, told the press that, “Our society cannot function without the Internet and it cannot function for long with global warming. It is time for reason and scientific knowledge to direct congressional action to curb carbon emissions and put the world on track to limit global temperature rises to 2°C.” The president went on, “Everyone who has children and grandchildren should demand that their elected representatives act and act now.”

Many dark US sites urged visitors to call their Congressional Representative, providing the name and number. went further by offering to call a visitor, provide talking points, and connect the visitor with his or her member of Congress.

Congressional telephone lines and e-mail servers were jammed as millions joined the protest. Following President Obama’s press conference, Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Boehner (R-OH) jointly pledged to take up action to curb carbon emissions as their highest priority.

The protest site asked each member of Congress to take the following pledge: “I accept the findings of the US Academy of Sciences that ‘Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.’” By the end of the day, every Democrat and many Republicans had signed the pledge and the number was growing hourly.

Many university sites joined in the blackout, including MIT, Oxford, Stanford, and the University of Queensland. Scientific journals including Science Magazine and Nature also went dark. Shutting down for the day were the British House of Commons and the German Bundestag.

Many climate blogs joined the Day of Darkness, including,, and

Noted climate scientist James Hansen, who has been arrested for joining protests against carbon polluters, said, “This may be humanity’s last chance.”

Dr. James Powell is a geochemist and author who formerly served as president of Reed College and for 12 years on the National Science Board.

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