Friday, January 4, 2008

Converting to Green: How many skeptics does it take to screw in a CFL light bulb?

Converting to Green: How many skeptics does it take to screw in a CFL light bulb?

By Howard Gordon

All right, I admit it. When it came to believing that I could make a difference in the fight to stop global warming, I was a skeptic. Sure, I drove a Prius, and I dutifully deposited my Fiji bottles in the nearest blue recycling bin. But the truth is, I mostly did these things to make my wife, Cami, feel better. She's been such a true believer for such a long time that I had no real choice in the matter if I wanted to keep the peace at home.

So I humored her passionate activism, I indulged her fears in the dire predictions being offered up daily by scientists and by the media. Not that I didn't believe that our consumer society is on the fast track to destroying the planet -- I just didn't think that anything I did was going to derail the inevitable.

On more than one occasion, I slipped and admitted to my wife my true feelings on the subject. That we were hypocrites. Limousine liberals. Driving a Prius might make us feel better about ourselves, but it didn't compensate for all the carbon we were emitting by employing the small army of people who help maintain our not-so-modest home -- from gardeners to house cleaners to handymen. These are people who commute from faraway places in cars far less efficient than ours. If we really wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, we should sell our house, move into a high-rise, and take public transportation.

We had this argument at least a dozen times. And each time, my wife held her ground, insisting that doing something was better than doing nothing. She said if everyone did something, it would make a difference.

So I'd grudgingly go back to carrying my own canvas bags to the supermarket, unplugging my cellphone charger, even trading in my Fiji water for a refillable aluminum bottle. Until one day, the light bulb went off over my own head. Literally.

I was replacing an incandescent bulb with a more efficient compact fluorescent bulb, and when I turned it on to test it, I suddenly realized that the skepticism I'd been carrying with me for all this time had given way to something else. Something that felt a lot like satisfaction. The solution was never going to come all at once; it was a process. By doing these small things, however reluctantly, I'd begun to believe that I really was making a difference. And that was the whole point of doing something, of doing anything that contributed to the solution.

Having taken these few halting, reluctant steps, I found myself looking forward to taking more steps. Carrying the canvas bags to the supermarket stopped feeling like a hassle. I went out of my way to carpool with people I knew were attending school events and business meetings. I had solar panels installed at our house. I even headed up an effort to make more energy efficient the physical production of the television show I produce, "24," as part of News Corp.'s Cool Climate Change initiative. I'd finally joined Cami on what had been, until now, her solo journey.

Perhaps most significantly, I realized that our actions, small and large, were starting to change the behavior of the people around us. Because we've been making choices to reduce our carbon footprint, the people around us are starting to take their own first steps to reduce theirs. Our children are getting pretty good at turning off the lights when they're not in a room, and turning down the heat. Some of our friends have started replacing their incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

Now and again, that familiar skepticism comes back. Bringing my own mug to Starbucks still doesn't seem like much of an answer to the massively rising energy consumption happening in India and China. And I'm waiting for a DWP audit to find out how much energy those solar panels of mine are really producing. But even if it doesn't turn out to be as much as I'd like, we're still doing better than we would have been doing without them -- and not nearly as good as I hope we'll all be doing in the future.

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