Q. How do I participate, and what does it mean if I do?
A. Turn off all the lights and appliances that you reasonably and safely can, between 7 and 10 p.m. in your time zone. This might be many hundreds of watts. Your darkened house, and the utilities' lower demand figures, will signify your vote of "no confidence" in the energy policies now coming from Washington.
Q. But it'll still be light!
A. Good, then it should be easy, right? Actually, you may find that the evening teaches you something about where you really do use energy in a typical evening at home. More than likely, you'll discover some things that you do by habit that you could just as well not do--especially when it's really not all that dark out.
Q. What group is organizing this event?
A. None. Throughout April and May it has been promoted mainly through e-mail between individuals who like the idea and decide to forward it. As it's grown enough to come to the attention of organized groups, several have lent it their support (see our Links page). But most households that want to observe the occasion will do so, without implying an affiliation with any sponsoring organization.
Q. Then what's that link I see at the bottom of some copies of the message?
A. Links attached to the message might be real and useful, but often are just artifacts of the forwarding process. Some discussion-group software attaches the name of the group to the message. (Likewise, some individuals who forward the message sign their own names as a courtesy to the recipient.) If the next person's mail software automatically quotes the entire message when forwarding it, including those signatures and ads and whatever, the recipient after that might suppose that those show the origin of the message. But in fact, any mailing list or group that you see in the signature area was simply one stop along the way.
Q. Who did write it, then?
A. The original message was composed by a Los Angeles artist named Monica Rex, who in turn was working from an idea posed by a Silicon Valley engineer named David Aragon. Mr. Aragon coined the name "Roll Your Own Blackout," and Ms. Rex composed the message that places it on June 21 and asks each recipient to forward it. As it has spread through the network, others have modified it as they saw fit. For some time the mail was described as "anonymous," not because anyone tried to conceal their identity, but simply because the message had spread so fast that it was a lot of work to follow it back to its source. Now, since the names of the originators mean nothing to most of the participants in the blackout, one aspect of anonymity remains--those who support the blackout are truly agreeing with the idea, as opposed to going along with an appeal from a celebrity or political leader.
A. Not any more. Californians are of course particularly concerned about electricity price gouging since a bad deregulation scheme has begun to take effect. But the government policies presently at issue, e.g. drilling in wildlife refuges, are federal. And, since the energy companies are mostly based outside California and have worldwide operations, their other customers are taking a lively interest in their own fates. The first copy of the "Roll Your Own Blackout" message that I saw came from Amherst, Massachusetts, by way of Oregon.
Q. How far away are people telling each other about the blackout?
A. The Seattle Times reports (May 19) that the message has been received from China. We have Guestbook entries from Europe and even from Australia (near the Int'l Date Line, Oz may be the nation that starts the blackout rolling on the 21st!) And it will truly be black there, as it's the Winter Solstice for them.
Q. What do foreigners care about American energy policies?
A. All kinds of reasons. "When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold." Those who trade with us would notice if our economy choked. And because they breathe the same air and fish in the same oceans we do, they naturally wonder what we will be burning or spilling--especially since we reneged on the Kyoto accords. They buy oil from the same places we do, often through the same multinational (but originally American) companies, and wonder how our approach will affect price and stability. The astute reader will doubtless think of yet other reasons....
Q. How many participants are you aiming for?
A. Since there is no conceivable way to measure, what's the point in predicting? Look, this is something people are doing because they hold certain values--mainstream values to be sure, but not reflected in national policy. Like other expressions of values in a community, such as church attendance, voting, etc., expecting guaranteed results in a specific form is missing the point at least a little.
Q. OK, I'm in! I want to help--where do I send money?
A. No, the idea is to stop sending money to the electric power brokers, at least for a little while. If you want to help, simply turn off your juice when the time comes--and tell all your friends so they'll have the opportunity to do the same. If you want a convenient way to go on record supporting the blackout, with an organization that will record your e-mail address and supply you with updates on energy and related issues, visit MoveOn.org., one of the groups shown on our Links page.