Let There Be Dark, Or At Least Fewer Watts

by Richard Stuebi

Last week, as virtually everyone with an interest in energy and the environment knows, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gathered in Paris to release the first report of their Fourth Assessment. (see article) The report presents the accumulated evidence of physical change that has already occurred in the climate, and what is expected to or might occur by the end of the 21st Century.

If someone were to read this report and continue thinking that climate change is a hoax, then that person is either unable to read or unable to think.

To show their support for the climate scientists that had assembled there, Parisian officials decided to make their statement about the need for solutions to climate change by shutting off the lights to the Eiffel Tower for five minutes. (see article)

You might say, “five minutes, big deal.” Certainly, in and of itself, the act of turning out the lights is solely a symbolic act. But, it had one effect on me: I began thinking about all the ways in which we celebrate lighting things needlessly — and how much energy is wasted in doing so. Does the Eiffel Tower (or any other big building, for that matter) really need to be lit up, so brightly, for so much of the time?

If we’re going to light things for purely ornamental reasons, we should at least do it efficiently. I’m glad to hear that the Eiffel Tower uses much more efficient lights than it used to. But my speculation is that a lot of public lighting continues to be based on energy-intensive incandescent lightbulbs. We need to stop it.

In that vein, a bill has been introduced in the California Assembly to ban the sale of incandescents in the state, through the wonderfully-named “How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act”. (see article) Once again, California leads the nation.

Let’s begin a public conversation about our public lighting practices: what deserves to be lit, how much of the time, with what kind of bulbs.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy.

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