Brazil's Answer to Energy Crisis: Flashlights

The lights of Rio are going dim or going out entirely.

At the famed Copacabana Palace hotel, they've cut off the distinctive outdoor lights. And the late night discos are switching to candle light.

Brazilians realized just how serious the country's energy crisis had become when night games for the soccer championships, a true passion, were cancelled at the Maracana Stadium, the world's largest stadium.

It's all part of a government edict to virtually every business and residence across Brazil to cut the use of electricity 20 percent or have the power cut off for up to six days.

The soccer finals had to be moved to a stadium deep in the Amazon region, where there's a surplus of electricity — something like moving both the Super Bowl and the World Series to the middle of South Dakota.

"We have a problem, we cannot lie about that anymore and we've got to ask the people for some sacrifice," says Eduardo Paes, the Brazilian secretary of environment. Paes is the official in charge of enforcing the mandatory cutbacks in Rio, a program which urges residents to buy flashlights and get used to a new, darker way of life.

"We're gonna cut the lights of your houses, your home, your office, your work, your company, your factory," he says. "Obviously we are facing bad moments and people are scared."

Severe Drought Halts Water Power

At the heart of Brazil's energy crisis is the fact that 90 percent of the country's power comes from water through hydro-electric dams. One of the worst droughts in memory has drastically cut the production of electricity.

It's a potential disaster for Brazil's economy, the eighth largest in the world.

But officials say they'd rather enforce these measures than damage the environment with more power plants.

"[If you come to Rio, you'll see] this beautiful view of the Sugar Loaf," says Paes, "you're not going to see it anymore." The lights will be extinguished. But not on the famed statue of Jesus that stands over Rio. A television campaign to urge conservation is now underway and the true test will come next month when the new power bills are sent out. Those that failed to meet the required 20 percent cut will have their power shut off.

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