Monday, May 07, 2007

How Many Jews Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

As usual, I've cross-posted over at Jewcy.com.

My roommate is my newest blogging muse. She delights in feeding me information that I can turn into blog posts. And I, in turn, take great joy in accepting her great ideas and passing them off as my own.

So, a few nights ago she came downstairs with her Smithsonian magazine in hand to show me an article on Thomas Edison and the evolution of the lightbulb. Apparently, incandescent bulbs are for bad people who don't care about the earth. But compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs (they're the ones that look like squigly, corkskrew things) are, at least for now, the bulb-of-choice for those who are "environmentally conscious."

For those of you who are concerned: No, my roommate and I do not often commune to discuss the technological advancement of light sources, though we have been known to argue about the syntactical nuances of a two-syllable word for an ungodly amount of time. On a good night, though, we realize how nerdy we are and quickly shift to a discussion of whether skinny jeans are really a good look for anyone.

She thought I would find the article amusing, though, because it highlighted a nationwide campaign launched by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life called "How Many Jews Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?" The campaign is geared toward getting Jewish communities to be more environmentally aware. It's an attempt at proselytization, so to speak -- urging incandescent-bulb-using Jews (and others) to convert to the CFL bulb belief system. It's a cool idea, and very tikkun olam, which I am ALL about.

All good stuff. The problem? I am not "environmentally conscious," it seems. You either are, or you aren't. Yes, I should be. But I'm not.

My roommate, however, is the recycler extraordinairre, queen of the environmentally aware. I, on the other hand, drink a bottle of water every day, and when I am done I throw it in the trash. I am environmentally challenged. I gripe when my roommate's gigantic box of "stuff to be recycled" takes up too much space in our office. I snarl when she goes through the house trading out my incandescent bulbs for her CFL bulbs. I recoil at countless empty catfood tins in the sink, awaiting their journey into her recycling bag.

And yet, I feel guilty . . .

But she drives an SUV, and I do not. It's a trade-off. And I do charity work when I can, so it must even out, right?

And here's my loophole: apparently (according to the Smithsonian piece), these CFL bulbs have mercury issues, which means you don't want them anywhere near the kitchen where food is being prepared -- if the light were to somehow get bumped, you would end up with a dusting of mercury all over your kitchen counter. That's great -- save the ozone, kill the individual, slowly, over time. Death by mercury poisoning.

But then I read this:

Our message is as easy as changing a light bulb: If you could conserve energy and help stop global warming in one simple step, wouldn't you? CFLs use up to 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs, while lasting approximately eight times longer. This means less production of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and toxic waste. The average CFL will save its owner at least $55 in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb! Your CFL will pay for itself in energy savings within two to three months (based on a 5-hour/day use and average electricity costs.) If every U.S. household replaced one bulb with a CFL, it would have the same impact as removing 1.3 million cars from the road.

So the ethical dilemma is not a new one: Do I do what will benefit me and my family, or do I take the high road and change out my bulbs in order to remove 1.3 million cars from the road?

9 comments:

DSW said...

In this situation I think you/we can have our cake and eat it too. Change out the bulbs in areas where there is little risk to the individual like living rooms, hallways, etc. and use traditional bulbs in the kitchen and bathrooms. Its not perfect but a good compromise.

Monica said...

Yeah, you're probably right -- it's not perfect, but it's the best we have, so I should be a nice girl and just give in . . . just say no to my dark side.

Casey said...

Environmentalism is an upstart religion in my humble opinion. (...which is the only reason I support it.)

Insignificant Wrangler said...

When it comes to health concerns, I must say I side with my family--even if the risk is small. But I'm only a quasi-environmentalist: I vote green, but lazily use plastic cups and paper plates.

Wishydig said...

Eventually the CFLs are all going to be tossed into the garbage or recycling bin and many cities don't have (or use) the resources to dispose of them properly.

So do we keep steeping our soil with mercury while saving energy? Geez I'm already cutting down on albacore. Will I eventually need to cut down on salmon too?

Monica said...

You know, Wishydig, I had also thought of that -- the problem that disposing of the CFLs presents. All this mercury in the ground -- bad, bad thing. I guess there are certainly places to take them in order to dispose of them properly, but how many people will really make the effort to do this? I just found out recently that you aren't supposed to throw batteries away. I did not know this, and am now haunted by all of the battery corpses I've sent off into the environment.


Casey -- as an "upstart religion" environmentalism actually appeals to me in some way. I like the idea of devoting one's time/effort/energy toward bettering something. Now that's religion . . .


Insignificant Wrangler -- I'm with you. I'm most concerned about my immediate family, for better or worse. But I guess in the meantime we all just do what we can . . .

Michael Nehora said...

You're right, Monica, to bring up battery disposal as an analogy. All municipalities ask people to bring all their batteries to designated sites for disposal. But how many--especially in larger cities--provide more than one darned site for this purpose? Fortunately, in some cities others have taken up the municipal government's slack. For example, if I recall correctly, certain major Toronto hardware stores will accept your spent batteries and take them en masse to the disposal site.

Wishydig said...

This is where voting "green" is vital to moving forward. Until cities choose to make the drop-off points accessible we end up burning the fuel driving to the other end of town to drop off our 4 batteries and 6 bulbs.

I could save fuel by making a day of it and riding a bike. Or I could wait until I've collected a trunk full of the vile little critters then carpool to the site with my one neighbour who also has a carefully sorted bin. Let's make him a hero and say drives a Prius.

And I can wait until my local govt gives Meijer and Target and Wal-Mart enough incentive to handle the waste.

Dani said...

Thanks for writing this.