In a bid to make France more energy efficient, lights outside public buildings, shops and offices in Paris are to be turned off between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. starting next July. But merchants are aghast at the new regulation to turn off the lights on Paris’ famed Champs des Élysées and are claiming that the French government is being “insensitive” to the city’s reputation as the no. 1 tourist destination in the world.
81.4 million people visited France last year, with thousands visiting Paris for the moon- and electricity-lit promenades in its famous streets and over the Pont des Arts. Claude Boulle, head of Paris’ City Centre Merchants Association, goes so far as to say that turning off the lights at night will reduce the city’s allure as a shopping destination, saying that “We’re becoming a museum, falling asleep after sunset.”
Merchants have already been not too happy about existing regulations that prohibit Sunday opening and night shopping. The new measure is, they say, the last thing the struggling French economy needs. Unemployment is at a 14-year high in France and youth unemployment at 22 percent; the economy has barely grown in the past year.
Other opponents of the measure, including France’s Lighting Union, point to the “social role” of lighting and the security it provides. Says Sofy Mulle, vice- president of France’s Commerce Council, an organization representing some 650,000 merchants, in Bloomberg, “Great! Another positive message sent to citizens and to tourists: the city will go dark!… Surely, we can work out environmentally friendly solutions that have less impact on our society and our economy.”
Mulle’s words overlook the fact that keeping up Paris’ image as the “City of Lights” — derived from its being the center of the 18th-century philosophical movement of “Les Lumières,” the Enlightenment, and its early use of street lighting — is coming at a heavy cost to society. In just one night, keeping the lights on consumes the energy of one nuclear plant of 1,300 megawatts, says France’s Association to Protect the Sky and Night Environment.
Paris’s 304 monuments, churches, statues, fountains and bridges already go dark at night. The lights are turned off at the Eiffel Tower at 1 a.m. and lighting at the Notre Dame cathedral has been reduced from 54,000 to 9,000 watts over the past decade. The Clan de Néon is seeking to have neon signs turned off at night.
France’s Energy Ministry insists it will not budge from the new initiative, which is part of a European Union-wide effort to reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2020. Delphine Batho, minister for energy and the environment, says:
“One of our main objectives is to change the culture. We need to end the cycle of producing more because we are consuming more. There should be sobriety in energy use.”
Certainly the response to the new measures in Paris shows how entrenched the practice of keeping the light on 24/7 has become. One cannot argue about safety concerns, but a solution starts with working to develop sustainable alternatives (such as solar lighting and full cut-off fixtures that direct light downward) and all the more in the city that early on made its streets bright with gas lights.
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