Everyday Environmentalist

Traveling Light

"Giving away light bulbs in foreign cities never fails to provoke a discussion."

Sanjayan, lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy

By Sanjayan

I bike a lot, drive a Prius (and rarely), have a small and well-insulated house, and eat locally grown food — including fruit from nine different tree species in my garden.

Still, my carbon footprint is stuck at 25 tons per year — that of an average American. What does me in is travel — mostly work-induced. I try to use conference calls, but the global reach of conservation work means that I have to frequently take long-haul flights.

Carbon credits can assuage the guilt a little — but I like to be more proactive. So I take energy-efficient compact flourescent light bulbs (CFLs) with me on my trips, and I give them to someone at my destination — swapping them for existing incandescent bulbs that illuminate a small shop or local restaurant or school.

Swapping out a few existing working incandescent light bulbs for a couple of CFLs offsets a substantial portion of the carbon dioxide emissions of the long haul flight — not just because the CFLs use less energy, but also because they last many times longer. If I'm going from New York to Johannesburg, for instance, giving away six CFLs offsets more than one-quarter of my trip emissions.

Of course, giving away light bulbs in foreign cities never fails to provoke a discussion — a chance to educate someone on climate change or to strike up a new friendship. It's surprising how many people around the world have heard about climate change and want to talk about it.

And in all my light bulb giveaways, I've never met anyone who turned down a freebie.  

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy. 


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