Oh, Christmas Eve, the beautiful lights on the streets, glowing above the snow … scratch that, lighting up the soggy ground, with inflatable reindeer merry-go-rounds, mangers, flashing light displays, and so on … As with much of American society, the excesses of last year are only targets to be topped this year.
The Washington Post reported on a 12-year rivalry between two Maryland homeowners seeking to out do each other’s light displays in Let There be Light.
Both men blew their fuses so many times they ended up installing extra circuit breakers and outlets. Electrical limitations one year forced Richard to pick between plugging in his ailing father’s oxygen machine or his lights. The oxygen ultimately won, but Richard devised a way to work around his father’s schedule and eke out 90 minutes a night for lights.
The rivalry reached fever pitch in 2001 with Steve’s magnum opus: an 8-by-16-foot American flag.
The heat from the glowing monstrosity melted all snow within two feet. The sheer number of bulbs, 6,000 in all, required 12 extension cords, six outlets and a 30-amp circuit breaker.
Richard countered with a 28-foot Christmas tree in lights nailed to the side of his house. But even then, Steve’s flag won the day.
“melted all snow with two feet …” Is there anything stronger than this statement of fact (lights so hot that the snow melted around the display) to indicate how wasteful energy excesses are helping to heat the globe to reduce the likelihood of a White Christmas in the years to come.
Returning to the flag, just one element in this household required display, 6,000 lights? How many 10,000s of kilowatt hours are burnt each year at just these two homes in their lighting rivalry? How many tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the air due to these two men pursuing a lightbulb rivalry? And, how many homes across America imitate this insanity?
Do you love those displays of Christmas (or Hannukah or Kwanza or …) lights? Are you awed by those so impassioned that they string up 1000s of lights in awesome displays worthy of a city center? I once did, pausing on cold winter nights, white clouds issuing from my mouth, enjoying being in the glow of beautiful displays. And, in a way, I was inspired that they would spend $1000s (or $10,000s) on displays and the electricity to power them so that others could enjoy the sight on those cold winter nights.
But … no longer … not for awhile. Far too often nowadays, my winter evenings I can wear short sleeve shirts rather than bulky coats and gloves. And, energy is no longer a question simply of money. I’ve reached the point of feeling like a Scrooge; feeling outrage over the tons of C02 going into the atmosphere via neighbors’ 10,000 light displays rather than feeling ‘joyous’.
If you don’t have massive light displays in your neighborhood, Tacky Light Tour provides a one-stop tour for some of the greatest (worst) excesses when it comes to lighting display.
Now, when it comes to our energy future and seeking a path toward a prosperous, climate friendly society, energy efficiency is critical. When it comes to Christmas lights, LED strings offer a real option for real change. In my household, four strings light the tree very nicely. Total wattage: under 13. (Yes, under 13 total for some 200+ lights. Now, we cheat a little since two of the strings are solar powered …)
But, efficiency can only take us so far.
Thus, even these 13 watt display is religiously turned off when no one is likely to be around to enjoy them.
Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with those in the neighborhood with 1,000s (or 10,000s) of lights in their displays. Anyone else wondering just how many people are out there at 3 am looking at Christmas light displays?
Thus, we can take efficiency and reduce power usage even more through our choices in terms of how we run those efficient systems.
But, is that enough?
Every so often, over the years, there are stories of Skeikhs, in some oil-rich nation, using air conditioners to cool open areas of the desert. What extreme excess and profligacy when it comes to energy, without consideration of the pollution implications of their actions.
Are these excessive Christmas light displays truly different?
Should people who leave on light displays 24 hours per day celebrated or …? Or what?
When we see light displays, should we be celebrating their beauty and ingenuity or be pained at the pollution that the energy use implies?
As the risks of our energy usage become ever more clearly understood, the impacts of Global Warming ever more evident, and our understanding of a need to move toward a better energy future stronger, celebration turns to pain.