Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

This is not a time for whimsy…

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things

This whimsical line is from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-glass. It was said after the oysters had been lured from their oyster beds with the promise of a ‘pleasant walk, a pleasant talk’. The oysters were eager for the treat and ventured to the beach. ‘Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, Their shoes were clean and neat’ is how Carroll described them.

the-walrus-and-the-carpenterMuch like the gathering of politicians at COP22 I imagine. Their time has again come, to talk of many things. A walk on the beach (180 km from Marrakesh) is not likely and my hope is that oysters are not on the menu. Otherwise Carroll’s poem looks too much like a parable.

Conference Of the Parties is what COP stands for, and this will be the 22nd such conference organised by a UN Climate Change body.

The body’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Despite the action verb that starts their objective, the framework has set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

In the previous twenty one conferences, has their talk been more than whimsical?

COP21 in Paris last December was lauded for the fact of its agreement but provided no solutions.

Our government ratified the Paris Agreement in October, and agreed to target an 11% emissions reduction by 2020. They seek to achieve that target by economic sophistry – a combination of purchasing carbon credits to pay for business-as-usual emissions plus the gains from new forest plantings.

As a consequence, our actual gross emissions will increase. What the world needs, is a better than 40% reduction in actual emissions.

In the absence of meaningful government-led climate actions, it falls on us, individually, to take action.

Climate actions by individuals

led-bulb-green-backgroundOne simple way that we can contribute to actually reducing carbon emissions is by replacing our old incandescent light bulbs.

A 60 watt incandescent light bulb burning for just one hour per night will cost less than 2 cents per night to run. Burn that bulb for a year and the energy cost totals $6.48.

Install an equivalent LED bulb and the energy consumed will cost just $0.76 per year. That’s a $5.75 saving every year for the next 20 years. $115 saved for a $10 investment! If the bulb burns an average of three hours per day, well, you do the maths.

For those with 100 watt bulbs, converting to LEDs will save you even more – $9.50 per year or $190 over 20 years for the same $10 investment. That capital cost will be paid for by electricity savings in just 12 months. If the bulb burns for three hours per night on average, expect to recover the purchase cost in four months.

The carbon emissions reduction is small but multiply the savings from a single replaced bulb by the number of bulbs you have and by the number of households in this country, and the impact on our national carbon emissions is significant, and greater than what our government are doing.

These are the savings from reduced electricity consumption. For every LED bulb purchased, the purchase of 15 – 20 incandescents will be avoided. So there are also capital savings to be made if those old bulbs are thrown away.

An incandescent bulb has an average lifetime of 1,000 hours. Burn it for an average of three hours per night and you will replace it every year. The equivalent LED will last at least 15 years before needing replacement.

Waste not, want not.

This was something my parents said. Throwing away a 98 cent bulb does go against my waste minimisation principles, but that cash saving of $5.75 in electricity costs is just too great to justify holding to that principle.

You might also say that the price of LED bulbs is dropping and waiting another year will mean they are cheaper. That’s likely true enough, but again, that $5.75 saving in electricity costs in the first year of replacing a bulb, means that the future cost would need to more than halve for that argument to hold.

Or you might say that you prefer the softer light from an incandescent than an LED. That was true a few years ago but today, there is so much variety in the colour output of an LED. The alternative is to get out to the rubbish dump and collect all the old incandescent bulbs that the rest of us are throwing out.

And then there are the procrastinators amongst us, those who put off the replacement of old bulbs because it’s a hassle. Far better it is, to go around the house once and replace all the bulbs than having to do it many times over the next year or two. So next time you have the step stool out to replace one bulb, replace them all and save yourself having to do it again for many many years.

This is not a time to be whimsical: how many bulbs do you have that could be replaced to save you money, and contribute to saving the planet?

Biochar, a climate action that anyone can take

When buried in the soil, biochar is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.

That our climate is rapidly changing ought to be clear to everyone now. Scientific analysis provides clear and sufficient evidence that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, is caused largely by our burning of fossil fuels and removal of carbon sinks including forests.

The issue is not why is it is occurring or how we got to this stage of chaos.

No, the issue is: what can we do about it?

‘We’ means you and I, not just our national or local governments.

The need to take action is now urgent.

An analysis of data from the Global Carbon Project, has concluded that the world has only five years left before the IPCC(1) carbon budget(2) for 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, is blown.

To express that another way: if the current rate of carbon emissions continues, there is a 2 in 3 chance that sometime in 2021, the mean global average temperature will reach 1.5°C of warming above the internationally agreed baseline of pre-industrial levels.

The forms of action that we need to take are clear.

The first is to reduce our carbon emissions immediately. That is, reducing individual emissions from travel (especially vehicles fuelled by fossil fuels), waste disposal, electricity, gas and coal use, and food production and distribution.

Another worthy action is to lobby government to either introduce a carbon tax, or strengthen the emissions trading scheme so that the country’s gross green house gas emissions(3) are reduced.

Doing these things will slow the rate of global warming but will not stop it dead.

So the second necessary action is to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Planting trees is one way to achieve that outcome, and is the preferred net emissions reduction strategy of this government.

Another way is to sequester carbon where it can be locked away for a very long time.


That can be achieved by manufacturing biochar from waste organic materials like at municipal landfills (domestic waste), and forestry (tree waste), horticultural (crop waste) and animal (e.g. chicken) waste.

These are waste streams which, if they are not pyrolysed and buried, would decay quickly and add to our green house gas emissions.

Pyrolysis (derived from the Greek ‘pyro’ meaning fire and ‘lysis’ meaning separating) is a process of heating organic materials in the absence of oxygen. The process changes the chemical and physical structure of waste organic materials to produce charcoal.

Turning charcoal into biochar is a process of inoculating the char with beneficial bacteria and fungi.

A very efficient way of achieving that is to use it first as animal bedding in the dairy, equine or poultry industries.  Or it can be used as a water filter in waste treatment systems, added to compost or soaked in a tea made from compost or worm farm castings.

Biochar is a soil amendment that realises significant benefits to the soil and thus the crops we grow.  Biochar achieves this by replacing the need for fertilisers that require fossil fuels in their manufacture and distribution.  When buried in the soil, it is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.


(1) IPCC: The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an internationally accepted authority on climate change, and was established to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.

(2) In it’s 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC argued, with high confidence, that “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today … warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.”  The IPCC’s goal is to limit global warming to less than 2.0 °C but preferably to less than 1.5 °C by 2100. This lower limit equates to an atmospheric concentration level of 430 ppm CO2-equivalent.
How this relates to New Zealand is covered in a separate report by the NZ Climate Change Centre.

(3) Gross greenhouse gas emissions are defined as the total emissions from the four defined sectors of Agriculture, Energy, IPPU (Industrial Processes and Product Use) and Waste. Net emissions are the gross emissions plus or minus the emissions or removals from the LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry) sector.  When forests are being planted, carbon is being sequestered which subtracts from the gross emissions to yield the net figure.