Dear Reader

Christmas Lights(A)

The ushering in of 2007 is behind us, with all the promises and parties, and the removal of holiday lights from lawns, bushes, trees, rooftops and windows. Not to be missed by some of us are the giant inflated Disney-like lighted characters that die rather messy deaths during the day and come to life at night. We asked one owner of four such characters why she has them crowding her lawn and she candidly said “to keep up with the neighbors”.
A good friend of mine (with tongue in cheek and undoubtedly blinded by an exuberant neighbor) sent these scary statistics about Christmas lights found in a blog: “Americans buy six hundred trillion trillion miles of Christmas lights, enough to stretch to the outer limits of the known universe and back eighteen times. All those lights suck a lot of power – in fact, total power consumption from Christmas lights is five times the entire energy output of the sun since the beginning of time.” This is obviously a joke, but just observing some of the gaudier houses and imagining them multiplied across the country makes me wonder if it’s possible. A partial answer to the energy use problem is LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting – PG & E sent a flier to its customers last fall to demonstrate the cost savings of LED holiday lights – it’s often true that saving energy also saves cost.

# of Lights

Type of Light

Energy Usage of Bulb

225 Hours (5 hours/day for 45 days)



Large Incandescent

7.00 Watts

472.5 kW/h



Mini Incandescent

0.45 Watts

30.38 kW/h



New LED Lights

0.043 Watts

2.9 kW/h


Ordinary power usage takes a heavy toll, added of course to other culprits. The New York Times reported on January 10 that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) “said unequivocally” that the buildup of greenhouse gases was helping warm the climate. Previously NOAA, under the Bush White House, had remained quiet on the topic. The year that just passed was the warmest recorded since records have been kept. Some people, in the New Year, are taking action. I am writing from California, where our semi-Republican Governor, Arnold Schwartzenegger, made headlines today, promising to create the “world’s first global warming pollution standard for transportation fuels, ratcheting down fuel carbon content 10 percent by 2020” (San Francisco Chronicle, January, 2007) under a plan put forward in his State of the State address.
I imagine that lobbyists are already mobilizing to fight this credible initiative, and ExxonMobil will undoubtedly lead the pack. A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air” explains how the company uses “Big Tobacco’s tactics to manufacture uncertainty on climate science”. At about $340 billion, ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded corporation, and has spent millions of dollars to deceive the public about global warming. The company can afford this; in 2005 XOM netted $36 billion, nearly $100 million in profit each day. (“Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air”, Union of Concerned Scientists, January, 2007)Socially responsible investors who do not invest in this company missed a very good stock year in 2006 – ExxonMobil was up a whopping 39%, not counting its dividend of 1.8%.
But back to Christmas lights. Eventually, we were smart enough to see through Big Tobacco’s tactics. We are starting to see through the tactics of those who would have us ignore the danger of global climate change. The fact is, though, that each and every one of us is going to have to take some responsibility on this issue just as we had to take responsibility around tobacco. Maybe as the holidays roll around next year, simple wreaths with LED lights should set higher standards for the neighbors!