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Can changing a light bulb really save the planet?

For years I have been told that one of things I need to do to ‘Save the Planet’ is to replace my incandescent light bulbs with a more efficient bulb. This I am doing today. But, as I get out the ladder to change this bulb, I take a moment to wonder if this is really making a difference to save the planet. After all how much CO2 is really saved by going form an incandescent to a compact fluorescent bulb?  

First it's important to understand a little bit about how energy is used in light bulbs. The amount of light given off by a bulb is measured in lumens. One lumen is the equivalent of the light given off by one candle. Granted, that’s not very specific, but scientists do have ‘standard’ light sources. A watt, on the other hand, is the amount of electricity a light bulb uses to produce light - it's not an indication of brightness. 

So a new 13-watt compact fluorescent light bulb produces as much light - as many lumens - as a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb. As much light, using only one-quarter of the electrical energy! (

Changing a 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb save 20 pounds of CO2 emission per year, assuming you use the light about 4 hours a day. Compared to the 36 billion tons of CO2 emitted globally every year, this is not even a drop in the bucket. Of course changing this light bulb can save me some money, about $8 per year. 

Upon reflection I see that changing this light bulb is as much a symbolic gesture as well as making a small contribution to Caring for God’s Creation. In his encyclical Pope Francis says that our present ecological crisis is a symptom of our throw-away society and neglect of our moral responsibility to care for this great gift of creation that God has given to us. Our responsibility is to be stewards of God’s Creation and pass it on undiminished to our progeny. This concept of stewardship of the Earth is common to all religions and moral codes. Changing this light bulb is a testament to my resolve to take this responsibility seriously even if it is just a small baby step toward averting our ecological crisis. Well, I guess it is time to stop staring at this bulb and replace the old one. I hope it will bring a new light on me and my realization of its importance, and inspire me to Care for Creation in larger ways. 

Personally, I find that the Integrated Ecological Solution Forum at is a compelling forum to begin an online discussion about how to take the next step to combat the ecological crisis.

Anthony Strawa, Ph.D. is a Catholic Climate Ambassador in San Jose, California

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