Reduce carbon emissions the painless way

It takes a few seconds for the fluorescent lights in my kitchen to reach maximum brightness. That’s what happens when you replace a half dozen recessed mini flood lights with the dirt cheapest, mini-spiral fluorescent bulbs available at the local hardware store.

My kitchen seemed the logical place to begin replacing bulbs. My mom once had a handcrafted sign hanging over her stove, “No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best.” The same holds true at my place—though my guests generally turn out to be my adult children who stop in to feed from time to time.

For the rest of the house, I’m buying better energy-efficient bulbs. The lamp next to my desk has a spiral fluorescent under its shade, and there’s no difference between it and a good, old energy-hogging incandescent.

I’m saving on mushrooming electric bills. More importantly, I feel like I’m doing my part to offset (in a tiny way) global warming.

This summer, the Glenshire Homeowner Association in Truckee changed the lights in its clubhouse, making it energy-use equivalent to the annual driving of a two-car family, according to Kris Hansen, associate director of the Truckee Climate Action Network,

“We took a whole family’s driving out of the equation in terms of carbon offsets,” Hansen says.

The change saves an estimated 9,033 pounds of carbon emissions per year—and the HOA uses only a quarter of the juice, saving more than $700 annually.

This year, TCAN replaced 2,100 bulbs in Truckee as part of its Light Switch program. The group distributed spiral bulbs and globes, floods and dimmable fluorescent lights from a kiosk at Ace Mountain Hardware. Along with free bulbs, Truckee residents received disposal instructions for them. The bulbs should last around seven years. When they die, they can’t be thrown in a landfill, as each contains a small amount of mercury.

Hansen, spurred in part by Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, joined the project as an intern. He’s been trying to find ways to help people make life changes in the near future. The average American—between driving, air conditioning, heating, lighting, computer using, carpet replacing and plastic-toy buying—is responsible for around 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

Hansen doesn’t see much willingness in people to shift shopping, transportation and energy-use habits.

“People are still consuming,” he says. “We’re not going to be able to change the culture quickly enough. … The next six years are critical for reducing greenhouse gases and making the effects of global warming manageable.”

But simple moves toward conservation can be a step in the right direction—moving our nation toward carbon neutrality.

Hansen cites the claim that if all incandescent bulbs across the United States were replaced with fluorescents, the nation would save enough energy to shut down 70 power plants. He’d like to think that the old dirty coal plants would get shut down first.

That’s a happy thought. Less air pollution. Fewer miners killed in collapsing unsafe mines. Less chance of the nasty mountaintop removal mining that fills valleys, rivers and streams with rubble for miles around.

The next effort by the TCAN will be to bring fluorescents to low-income homes, such as folks who live in area trailer parks. The group limits its give-away to four bulbs per family.

“That gets you started and builds confidence,” Hansen says.

He’s replaced all the bulbs in his family’s home, saving 1,800 pounds of carbon emissions and about $150 annually.

“The idea is that if we can’t create a fundamental shift in culture, we can work to do good things,” Hansen says.