What did you do this past weekend? Did you sit around in the dark for an hour on Saturday night, by chance?

I didn't. I was at a friend's housewarming party where just about every appliance large and small (including not one, but two crockpots) electronic gadget and gizmo (a ginormous plasma TV playing "The Never Ending Story" on mute with Britney Spears blasting in the background made for an odd combo) and light fixture (requisite not-so-moody party lighting) in my friend's one-bedroom apartment was switched to "on." Instead of a melamine platter, I should have given my friend a check for $20 to cover the spike in his utility bills as a housewarming gift.

I know that I'm not the only one who didn't spend Earth Hour in a dark room contemplating the effects of global warming. Instead, I spent the evening contemplating whether I should risk losing my seat on the couch to go to the kitchen for another deviled egg.

I also know I'm not the only one who wondered if Earth Hour should even exist as, once again, the World Wildlife Fund-sponsored event generated some backlash. This year, websites ranging from TreeHugger to GOOD published posts questioning the effectiveness and livelihood of the 4-year-old event. GOOD's Ben Jervey wrote that he believes Earth Hour "does more damage than good" while agreeing with Green Biz's Joel Makeower on the point that:

Turning off the lights for one hour seems a meek and hollow gesture, a feel-good measure that may fleetingly raise awareness, but does little to educate or change long-term habits, let alone 'take control over the future of our planet.' It is, simply put, a media event in search of actual content.
Personally, I'm not a complete Earth Hour naysayer, especially when it comes to getting kids involved. If I had been home on Saturday night, I probably would have flipped off the lights. Still, I can't deny that Earth Hour is more or less a PR blitz that's lost a lot of momentum, at least in the U.S.

So with all this talk of turning off the lights to help combat climate change, how exactly are Americans faring when it comes to non-symbolic household energy conservation? According to the results of a Harris Poll released last week, not too shabby, although we do have a ways to go in some areas.

The poll, conducted online between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, 2011 among 3,171 adults, found that six in 10 (61 percent) of Americans consider themselves savvy when it comes to energy issues, specifically knowing about sources of electrical power and improving energy efficiency at home. This is a 2 percent raise from 2009, when 59 percent of Americans claimed that they were knowledgeable about energy issues.

On the household energy efficiency front, eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) claim that they conserve energy by switching off lights and appliances when not in use. Sixty percent say that they've replaced incandescent bulbs with CFLs while 53 percent say that they've purchased EnergyStar appliances. Fifty-one percent of Americans claim to take shorter showers or wash clothing in cold water to reduce hot water usage.

The percentages drop significantly when it comes to more involved home improvement projects. According to the poll, only between 29 percent and 38 percent of those surveyed have installed low-flow faucets or showerheads, sealed gaps, changed air filters or used weather stripping to block air leaks. Only 25 percent of those polled have added insulation to an attic, crawlspace or exterior wall. Eleven percent of Americans polled have conducted a home energy audit or evaluation. Additionally, less than half of all Americans (56 percent) know what a smart grid is.

When it comes to being knowledgeable about energy sources, less than half of Americans (42 percent) say the benefits outweigh the risks of nuclear energy with 37 percent saying the risks outweigh the benefits. Twenty-one percent weren't sure. Sixty-nine percent agreed that nuclear power plant waste is a national issue. And to be clear, the poll took place before the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan thrust the dangers of nuclear power into the spotlight.

Interesting stuff. Read the full results of the poll here. Do these figures seem about right to you?

Via [PR Newswire]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Poll: 84 percent of Americans flip the switch to conserve energy
Many households went dark on Saturday in observance of Earth Hour. But how do Americans fare when it comes to non-symbolic acts of household energy conservation