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Earth Hour blasts into orbit

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Adam Vaughan

Volunteers help light a candle mural on the forecourt of the Opera House representing WWF and 60+ before the lights are switched off for Earth Hour. Click for more photos

Spreading the Earth Hour message

See Sydney and other Asian cities dim their lights for Earth Hour. Photo: Getty Images for WWF Australia

Earth Hour, the environmentally symbolic annual switch-off of lights for one hour last night, extended into space this year, the International Space Station taking part for the first time. A post-Gaddafi Libya was also a newcomer to the event.

The Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, who this week oversaw the trickier task of receiving supplies from one of Europe's unmanned spacecraft, was to share photos of Earth and live commentary as landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House switched off their lights. WWF, the event's organisers, say this year was on track for record participation, with 5411 cities and towns and 147 countries taking part, up from 5251 and 135 in 2011.

Organisations including the International Trade Union Confederation and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts asked their members to take part and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation asked World Heritage sites to take part.

The Acropolis in Athens, churches and convents in Goa and Angkor in Cambodia were among those going dark. In Britain, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Big Ben were all to switch off their lights.

Green members of the European Parliament said that for Earth Hour they were pledging to fight for measures to cut energy use in Europe. This year, Libya was taking part as Mohammad Nattah, 19, decided to organise Earth Hour in Tripoli.

Launched in 2007 in Sydney, initially as an energy-saving measure, the hour has spread internationally and become a symbolic event to encourage environmental action and awareness. It is a rolling hour from 8.30pm to 9.30pm across the world.

The event has also drawn criticism, including from green campaigners. George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network, has previously written that the initiative sends out the wrong message.

''Asking people to sit in the dark plays very well to a widely held prejudice that 'the greens' want us all to go back to living in caves,'' he said.

The co-founder and executive director of Earth Hour, Andy Ridley, said: ''Each and every one us plays an important role in making a difference to the world we live in.

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