Kill the Lights: Your Questions About Earth Hour Answered

What the heck is Earth Hour?

Held every year since 2007, Earth Hour promotes the well-being of our planet by encouraging people worldwide to take one simple step: turn off nonessential lights for just one hour. During this event, organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), people turn off their lights to raise awareness of one of our biggest environmental challenges — climate change.

Individual homes, businesses, and even entire cities across 162 countries and territories went dark in 2014. Supporters of Earth Hour say this event is a chance for people from all around the world to come together and inspire each other to take action on environmental issues.

When and where is it?

In 2015, Earth Hour will be on Saturday, March 28 from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in your time zone.

How can I participate?

You can join in by simply turning off your lights at home during that specific hour. You can attend an Earth Hour gathering near you or donate toward an Earth Hour project via Earth Hour Blue, the event’s fundraising campaign. If you really want to get serious, you can even organize an event for your business.

Event coordinators believe the power of a crowd gathered together behind a common cause is what can really make the event so successful. The hope being that if everyone comes together, people can truly make a difference.

Will all lights really be off?

Earth Hour only promotes turning off certain lights in homes or buildings, like lamps and overhead room lights. Safety lights, such as hallway night-lights, should be left on.

If you have nyctophobia (fear of darkness), don’t worry. While famous monuments, castles, and museums have participated in the past, community lights such as traffic signals and street lights will stay on. And it’s highly unlikely that all buildings everywhere will participate, so you won’t be in a complete blackout.

How did Earth Hour start?

WWF hosted the first Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia in 2007. For the inaugural event, 2.2 million people and over 2,000 organizations went lights-out. Today, it’s grown into a larger movement that raises awareness for numerous environmental issues.

Since that first symbolic event, Earth Hour has evolved into the world’s largest environmental grassroots movement, with participants from over 7,000 cities. The organizers expect hundreds of millions of people to participate in 2015.

Does Earth Hour actually help the planet?

As with most things in the public eye, critics say Earth Hour isn’t the most effective way to tackle climate change. Even when the lights are out, power companies continue generating spare capacity in preparation for when the lights are turned back on. Therefore, the event doesn’t really reduce emissions. So what’s the point?

According to organizers, it’s not about conserving energy for an hour, but is rather symbolic of a much bigger effort. Being part of the solution to local climate issues goes a long way in finding a solution to the larger cause of climate change for the planet.

What changes has Earth Hour inspired?

From youth awareness to political initiatives, Earth Hour strives to address sustainability issues in various parts of the world.

Action has been taken on different environmental issues that affect each country that participates. Unified actions that resulted from Earth Hour include fighting deforestation in Uganda (which loses 6,000 hectares of land to it every month), a ban on arctic exploration of oil in Russia, and even crowdsourcing solutions to the haze in China. While these objectives and goals may seem very different between regions, the underlying mission is the same — ensuring sustainability for Earth.

Here are just a few statistics from 2014:

  • Singapore: More than $20,000 was raised to campaign for decreased wildlife crime in South East Asia
  • Indonesia: Young people rallied around improving public transport, energy saving methods, and reducing use of paper and plastic
  • Russia: $106,000 was crowdfunded to protect endangered species like the Amur leopard, snow leopard, bison, polar bear, and Siberian tiger
  • Galapagos: Certain plastic products were banned to support marine conservation efforts
  • Kazakhstan: The country committed to planting 17 million trees

The event’s initiatives for 2015 include lobbying for legislation on access to solar power in Nepal, teaching students about climate change in European and African schools, and working with farmers and fishermen in Australia and Colombia to promote sustainable agriculture and fishing.

Esurance loves the Earth too

If you’re supportive of all things earth-friendly, you’re in good company. Esurance approaches things with the environment in mind. See how we try to make a difference.

And if you’re planning to turn your lights off this Saturday, have fun in the dark!

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How Spring Cleaning Can Save Closet Space and Maybe Even Cash

While many of us associate spring as the season for deep cleaning and decluttering, ridding your closet of long-forgotten knick-knacks, clothing, and appliances can save space — and maybe even cash at tax time.*

Rather than ditching your unwanted goods in the trash, consider donating. Not only will you have the satisfaction of knowing your stuff’s going to people who need it, but the federal government offers a sweet incentive by making your donations tax deductible.

Read on to learn how to clean out, donate, and get your deduction.

Be sure to consult a tax professional for any advice pertaining to your taxes and the application of your tax-deductible donation receipts.

How to know when to let go while spring cleaning

Don’t make parting with a 20-year-old pantsuit, ditching a dusty workout DVD, or passing up a one-time novelty fondue set any more difficult than it has to be.

Begin by making 3 piles: keep, donate, and maybe. (Your maybe pile should be 5 items maximum for things you might want to hang onto after all.)

Make spring cleaning a breeze by adopting this rule of thumb for every piece you pluck from your closet: if you haven’t worn or used it during the last year, donate it!

How to make the most of your spring cleaning donations

For added comfort that the goods you’re giving up will end up in great hands, think about what causes matter to you. Do some research in your local community. Here are a few ideas to get your started.

Give girls a little sparkle

Those fluffy prom gowns stuffed in the unseen corner of your closet since senior year of high school could see the light of day in a big way thanks to the Princess Project.

This organization encourages confidence in San Francisco Bay Area teens by providing free prom dresses at yearly shopping events. Without the Princess Project, many of these girls wouldn’t be able to afford a prom gown.

Don’t live by the Bay? Don’t worry! You can mail your dress or accessories to one of several locations.

Additionally, you can benefit teens in your community by dropping off gowns at your local Salvation Army.

Give those in need the reading adventure of a lifetime

Scan the bookshelf in your bedroom, piles of books in your hall closet, or boxes of books in your attic. You probably have more than you realize!

Those textbooks you’ve stored away, the beach reads you bought years ago, and the classics you adore so much (that you somehow have duplicates) could help educate and inspire students and others in need. There are countless organizations that accept book donations for a wide variety of causes. Search for your local spot online.

Another option is Books for Africa, a nonprofit that works to stop poverty by providing books to students who strive to learn as much as possible with very limited resources. According to the charity, 10 to 20 students are sometimes forced to share one textbook in Africa. Find out how your books can make a difference.

Give local shelter pets a little lift

Do you keep that clunky plastic pet gate from when your dog was a pup or that cat carrier your old roommate left behind? There’s a good chance your local shelter can put it to good use!

To find out where your lightly used pet gear can get better use, check out this comprehensive list of U.S. animal shelters.

Give aspiring professionals the goods for a great first impression

Do you have smart sheath dresses or sharply tailored jackets collecting dust in your closet? Or maybe you landed a job at a laid-back start-up and you don’t need to suit-up for your workday. Your clothing donation could elevate someone’s look (and spirits) when heading to a big interview.

Dress for Success (serving women) and Career Gear (for men) are charitable organizations that provide a supportive network and professional attire to those seeking to kick-start their careers.

Find out how to send your gently used office threads to help  women and men have a fresh and fashionable start to their careers.

How to cash in on your spring cleaning when filing taxes

Each charity has its own way of providing donation receipts. To make claiming your tax-deductible donation easier, check with your organization. If you’re interested in charities mentioned here, check out these site-specific instructions.

The Princess Project: Provide your name and address along with your dress and accessories donation, and they’ll send you a tax donation receipt by mail.

Books for Africa: While you can mail in books, you can also drop them at 2 warehouses, in Atlanta, Georgia, or St. Paul, Minnesota. Once you’ve passed those books on, email bfa@booksforafrica.org with your name, address, and the number of books donated. You’ll receive a thank you letter to keep on file.

Local animal shelters: Call your local shelter and ask about their guidelines for collecting a donation receipt.

Dress for Success: Collecting a tax receipt for your women’s professional clothing donations varies by Dress for Success affiliate. Contact your local affiliate for info.

Career Gear: Be sure to submit a note along with your men’s professional clothing donations that includes your name, email address, and number of items you donated. Career Gear will email you a tax receipt.

Because all donations made in 2015 won’t be eligible for a tax deduction until next year, consider saving a file folder in a designated spot for your tax donation receipts you’ll collect throughout the year.

This way, when tax season approaches next year, you’ll have your stack of deductible receipts all set — not to mention that extra closet space and warm, fuzzy feeling that you’ve done something good.

*As a reminder, consult a tax professional for any advice pertaining to your taxes and the application of your tax-deductible donation receipts.

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Moody Hues: How Your Wall Colors Could Make You Feel

If you’re inspired by bold-colored walls in an interior design magazine, consider how you’ll feel after the paint’s dried. Whether it’s fact or fiction, many psychologists and home design experts claim that wall color can affect your mood.

How color psychology applies to your décor decisions

Color psychology basically explores how different colors can affect our emotions. According to the Pantone Color Think Tank website, “The psychological association of a color is often more meaningful than the visual experience … Scientists have found that actual physiological changes take place in human beings when they are exposed to certain colors. Colors can stimulate, excite, depress, tranquilize, increase appetite, and create a feeling of warmth or coolness.”

With that said, everybody’s different. If you’re like me and pay sky-high rent for a small space, choosing just one color for a living/dining/guest room that’s also a home office can be tricky. A multipurpose room’s likely the place where you spend most of your time, so it’s really important to get it right.

Before heading to the hardware store in search of the perfect paint swatch, find out how the following colors might make you feel your best no matter what room you’re hanging in.

Colors and their (possible) emotional side effects

Green

As nature’s favorite shade, green is believed to channel tranquility and revitalization. It’s great for any area where you like to unwind from your daily hustle, unroll your yoga mat, or nestle up with a book.

Yellow

Soft-yellow walls are said to evoke happiness and cheer, so any space that’s well lived-in is a great spot to apply sunny hues. But too much can definitely be a bad thing. A lot of yellow in one room (think walls, accessories, and furniture) has been thought to cause agitation. Be sure to find the right balance for your space.

Red

Rumor has it that painting your bedroom red is bound to ruin your diet, because it’s thought to make you feel hungry, even when you’re not. Red’s fiery hue could also create a buzz of energy in a room, which could make for lively conversation over dinner.

Blue

Blue’s calming effects may actually stimulate creativity. Consider bringing blue hues into your home office, music room, or craft corner. Its chill vibes just might be able to break through your writers’ block.

Purple

Often associated with royalty, purple is said to work best in a room where you want to feel luxurious, making it a great choice for the space where you’d host a dinner party, show off décor, or primp at a vanity.

Orange

Believed to be happy and energetic, orange is the perfect paint color to pump up your exercise area. If the vibrance is overwhelming to you, consider adding just a touch with bold orange artwork.

Pink

Light pink reportedly has a soothing effect. You might want to consider adding the relaxed vibes of light pink to a child’s playroom. If you’re not crazy about wall-to-wall pink, adding some pink flourishes to any space might also do the trick.

Brown

Some claim that brown carries a warmth that elicits a cozy, intimate feeling, so it’s ideal for a room that’s used for gathering. It also complements natural shades of stone, so it’s a great color to consider if you’re looking to refresh the wall behind your fireplace.

White

Do you have a room with claustrophobic dimensions? You might be able to give it an airy feel with bright white walls! While some consider white walls to be boring, home designers love working with white because it can open up even the smallest of spaces.

Gray

Gray’s a strong, practical color that can induce a feeling of serenity. It’s best used as a base to let brighter colors pop in your home. It might be pegged as too serious for certain rooms, but gray can sing on its own anywhere from the bedroom to the study.

How does your home fall in line with color psychology?

Now that you’ve scoped the list, are you a believer? Do any rooms in your home evoke these color-based feelings? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Flirting While Driving: Dating Game or Dangerous Distraction?

As spring approaches, many of us who’ve spent months trapped in the lingering Polar Vortex will celebrate as we drive with the windows rolled down. But with this simple pleasure comes the tendency for a less-talked-about (but no less serious) driving distraction.

While most of us are familiar with distracted driving behaviors like texting, eating, and messing with the radio, a survey of 3,000 British drivers shed light on a lesser-known distraction known as flirting while driving (or FWD). (And while we sometimes like to focus on the differences between ourselves and our friends across the pond, it seems likely that flirting while driving isn’t a uniquely British problem.)

The scary flirting-while-driving stats

Although it may seem like harmless fun, flirting behind the wheel can be more distracting than you think. Need proof?

Forty-one percent of drivers surveyed admitted to flirting with fellow drivers when they should’ve been watching the road. Among those guilty of flirting while driving, 15 percent fessed up to close calls when their side-eyed style of driving nearly caused an accident.

The nature of this behavior tends to differ by sex and gender. Most women said they’d give an attractive driver a smile (instead of looking ahead), while men were more inclined to honk at (and probably startle) a driver that interested them.

Speaking of, more men admitted to FWD than women. Only one-third of women surveyed said they’ve been a little too friendly with drivers passing by, while half of the men surveyed admitted they’ve been more than attentive to attractive drivers nearby.

There’s no doubt it can be a challenge to stay cool when someone pulls up and makes your usual route a little more scenic. So next time you’re struck by Cupid’s arrow en-route, just remember to keep your eyes focused on the road.

How to avoid flirting while driving

Don’t treat driving like a dating game

Speed date the safe way — when you’re not on the road! Or if you’re really on the lookout for love, consider this. According to a recent survey by MSNBC, 63 percent of married couples met through a friend, not, like the song says, “ridin’ on the freeway.”

Keep your eyes on the road

That stolen glance could cost you more than just a dented bumper. Like your car, your insurance premium could also take a hit if you cause an accident due to distraction.

Let fate take its course

If you happen to glance at a good-looking motorist (not on purpose, I hope!), it’s best to leave any further actions up to chance. Who knows? Maybe you’re both headed to the grocery store or maybe that Prince Charming on wheels isn’t a cat person anyway, so it’s just not meant to be.

Are U.S. drivers guilty of riding flirty too?

What do you think? Have you seen fellow drivers scanning the road for eligible motorists, or is flirting while driving just a Brit thing? Has anyone ever tried to flirt with you on the road? Do you think flirting while driving’s a problem or no big deal?

Share your thoughts and experiences on FWD below!

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Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day Safely: The $5,549 Reason to Avoid Driving when You’re Drinking [Infographic]

Saint Patrick’s Day is the perfect excuse for attending parades, eating corned beef and cabbage, and (more often than not) enjoying a few pints. We all know the terrifying statistics about drunk driving, statistics that only get worse on holidays. But driving under the influence (DUI) can be costly in more ways than one.

Here’s our best advice: don’t drink too much. But if you do happen to over-imbibe, see why planning alternatives to driving might be the best idea since green beer.

Click on the infographic to expand.

2339-1_infographicDUI

5 ways to avoid driving if you’re going to be drinking

First off, we recommend trying not to overdo it. Did we say that already? Ok. That being said, on days like Saint Paddy’s Day, when you can’t resist toasting the Irish, here are 5 ways to take driving out of the equation altogether.

1. Ask a non-partygoer to chauffer ($0)

Even for a designated driver (DD), it can be all too easy for one drink to become too many, leaving you without a safe ride home. While some people might make great DDs, removing the possibility of overindulgence is probably your safest bet.

Asking a friend or family member that’s not attending the party can work well. This simple step can prevent a DD, or any other partier, from getting a DUI unexpectedly or causing harm to others.

  • In my experience, this tactic works best when the voluntary chauffer is not attending the party.
  • Asking a friend or family member well in advance of the celebration gives you time to ask around if people are busy.
  • It’s nice to throw the driver 20 bucks or offer to return the favor in the future.

2. Take the bus or train (≤$5)

If your area provides easily accessible bus or train travel, this is a really great option. You might be riding with other intoxicated people, which can be annoying. But there’s no arguing that this method of travel is affordable and doesn’t begin to compare to the hefty DUI fines.

  • At a certain point, the buses or trains might stop running, so know the departure times in advance. And watch the clock closely. (Setting a reminder on your phone helps.)
  • Don’t count on the last departing train. This gives you a cushion if you’re unexpectedly delayed.
  • Consider any significant increases in public transit traffic. If every partygoer’s trying to get on the same trains in a crowded city, you might have to let a few pass before you can ride.

3. Use ride-sharing services ($14)

This’ll only work for residents of large cities served by ride-sharing apps like Lyft, Uber, or Sidecar.

Yes, you might have to wait a long time before your ride shows up, especially at 2 a.m. when the bars close and all the responsible people out there are not driving. But the inconvenience and cost are totally worth the risks and costs of drunk driving.

  • Download the app and load your payment info before you head out for the night.
  • Try to plan your commute around high-demand times. Watch out for temporary “surge pricing,” which can go into effect when cars are most in demand.
  • Many of these companies offer free or discounted rides on holidays, so all the more reason to take advantage.

4. Go old school and call a taxi ($50+)

Ask yourself, what’s $50 now compared to thousands of dollars in the long run? Even though it may seem expensive when you have to shell out cash at the end of the night, in comparison with the cost of a DUI, it’s nothing. And totally worth avoiding the risk.

  • Save a few numbers for cab companies in your phone. It’s always good to have these for future reference. Otherwise, bartenders usually have go-to numbers on hand.
  • You might have to wait awhile for your taxi to show up, so don’t wait until the last minute to call. Requesting a car a bit before you intend to leave works well.

5. Host the party (cost varies)

Playing host has its own responsibilities, but one major advantage is not needing to travel anywhere. You could even ask guests to bring their own drink of choice, which keeps costs down. No matter how you slice it, this is still a much better, safer, and more affordable option than trying to drive and risking a DUI or worse.

Just be sure to pay attention to how much your guests have had to drink. Offering up a couch for the night is always a great option for those who overindulged.

Forget luck! Keep these tips in mind as you celebrate and have a safe and festive Saint Patrick’s Day.

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