The Charge of the Light Brigade: Curing Your Sense of Environmental Impotence with Light Bulbs and Dumb Hats.

Ok, I’ve got centaur blood and kraken DNA, so listen up.

In two recent posts I mentioned the same fact: that every dollar spent on CFLs saves 50 times more CO2 than every dollar spent on solar panels. Other facts:

  • Lighting accounts for 20% of US electricity use.
  • The lifetime energy savings of a CFL compared to an incandescent bulb could power a Prius across the country.
  • If each home in the U.S. replaced one incandescent bulb with an Energy Star CFL, in a year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes, and would prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of 800,000 cars.

And yet battalions of incandescents blaze on everywhere. They’re the investment bankers of the light bulb world: there’s a lot of them, they devour resources like nobody’s business, yet we tolerate them like the nincompoops we apparently are. There’s a difference though: incandescents don’t whine like dying babies when we remove them. Given the ease of switching, it’s brain-melting that so many remain in service. It makes me want to poop into my own hand.

Which brings me to today’s idea. The Light Brigade.

Let’s start with a question: why are there still so many incandescents? It’s not for lack of incentives to switch. CFLs pay for themselves in months and save cash after. Many utilities supply free CFLs if you ask, in which case they start saving you right away. There will even be a federal “ban” on incandescents starting in 2012 (in quotes because it’s loopholey). Turns out none of it is enough.

Why? Because we’re lazy. That’s mainly it. If you doubt the magnificent potency of human laziness I invite you to come over and look at my sink.

We’d rather burn money than change our bulbs, just like most of us would rather balloon and die than exercise.

The Light Brigade is a workaround. It’s possible because thankfully, we’re all lazy about different things. I’m lazy about dishes but not bulbs. In fact I’ll bring CFLs to your house and switch out your bulbs for free if you let me, because I think it’s so asinine that you’re losing money that way (not implying that I’m better than you. I’ve got my own dumb ways of wasting cash. You can come over and fix them if you want. You could throw my iPhone into a canyon for example.)

I’m not the only one whose laziness excludes bulbs. I’ll bet that in any city, there are enough of us to form a team to fan out across the city on weekends to replace people’s lights. And that’s my proposition: I propose that you round up a crew to form a volunteer army of light bulb changers, which we’ll call the Light Brigade because isn’t that clever.

(Not sure that naming the idea after a fantastically misguided cavalry charge ending in slaughter is wise, but I can’t think of anything better so let’s call it Winking Irony and move on.)

Whether it’s a good or bad idea hinges on its execution, so here are some ideas to make it awesome:

  • It must be fun. When the Brigade is done working each Saturday, gather for drinks, rent sumo suits, do nostril shots, whatever it takes.
  • Do it on bicycles. Why? A) it’s funner; B) the purpose is to cut the world’s footprint, but driving has the opposite effect; and C) critically, it will make you visible, and the Light Brigade must be visible for max impact. Speaking of which:
  • Everyone in the Light Brigade should wear a Light bulb Helmet. What’s that? It’s a bike helmet with a big foam light bulb glued to the top, preferably a CFL. You’ve never heard of it because I just invented it in my brain area. I’ll personally commission foam bulbs for anyone who forms their own Light Brigade. This is important. If everyone in the Light Brigade is wearing stupid foam helmet bulbs they’ll get notoriety. That spells Victory.
  • Make sure that each homeowner need only say yes, and that you do everything else.
  • Make sure to communicate the savings to everyone you meet.
  • Use to organize. Meetup is milk and honey.
  • You probably won’t have to pay for the bulbs yourself. As I said, utilities will often supply free bulbs. You might also get government agencies or incandescentophobic philanthropists to fund you.
  • Engage local journalists from the start. Get written up. There are guides galore to teach you how. You know how to use the internet so I’ll say no more.
  • Start a blog, and be funny, where: A) everyone can see what your Light Brigade is up to; B) journalists can link to you; and C) residents can request bulb-replacement visits.

My preference is to start in poor areas because a dollar saved is worth more to a pauper than a prince. On the other hand princes use more energy and more bulbs in their castles.

Someday, someone other than me is going to run with one of my ideas and this blog will be justified. Until then, it’s just some stupid photons. Help.

I lied about the centaur blood. It’s titmouse blood. Sue me.

From the Sea

Posted March 07, 2011 in Smashing Ideas | 6 Comments on The Charge of the Light Brigade: Curing Your Sense of Environmental Impotence with Light Bulbs and Dumb Hats.


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  1. Nate says:

    Brilliant writing. I saw your “Best Jobs” post a while back, but after browsing around a bit it looks like I should be a regular reader. Deep, irreverent, and right on the money.

    Maybe you’re pirates because most green authors just sound like parrots!

  2. Nick B. says:

    Thanks! Now I’ve got you, mother, and the search engine spider, so I’m off to search for regular reader #4. Also warning: the blog may get temporarily screwy in the next few days, because I’ve engaged a graphic designer to make me pretty and he’ll be switching over to the new design.

  3. Judy says:

    Since a 100-watt incandescent does not equal a 100-watt CFL, you might want to post a little conversion chart we can take to the store (or wherever) with us. Or how about an iPhone/Android app?

  4. Nate says:

    How’s this?

    You’ll note that it shows the light output too (technically measured in lumens). Watts measure the electricity use not light output, so it’s hard to compare wasteful incandescents with cool LEDs or CFLs. In an attempt to clear up the confusion, the FTC has created a Nutrition Facts label for lights, appropriately named Lighting Facts. It’s voluntary (and ugly), so that chart won’t be obsolete any time soon.

  5. Cris says:

    I had a quick kibitz as well. More focus needs to be made on recycling or bagging CFLs after use to prevent the mercury from getting into our groundwater. The ideas I’ve heard (other than recycling, which should be at every grocery store (maybe outside)) are putting them in plastic bags (in addition to the garbage bag) since many landfills are unreliably lined. I’m not sure about the diff. between mercury from billions of CFLs, vs. hundreds of Coal factories, but we’re really just Screwing ourselves on both ends.

    Ok one more, I’ve missed a number of posts, but have you touched on the little things like unplugging chargers (mandating AC adaptors that turn themselves off when not connected to the device), etc? These are many of the thousand cuts we’re bleeding (choking?) from.

  6. Nick B. says:

    Hey Cris,

    Sorry so slow in replying. I’m at a conference this week and my attention is glued there. I’ve not written about the specific things you list, mainly because I’ve only written something like 15 posts so far. My list of posts I want to do as at ~170 strong. Yikes.

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