Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lights out!

Earth at night - is there any intelligent life?I've been debating writing this post for a while now as I think it can be misconstrued as being too negative and that is not the effect I'm trying to achieve here. I just want people to think about the actions they take when doing something that seems environmentally sound.

It all started when the National Lights Out day (aka Earth Hour) came about and I saw that many were participating in it as well as promoting it. I think it's a great event to get people together and make them feel like they are participating in something large that makes a statement. It can be argued that the event was more symbolic than anything, but there was one thing that was grinding my crackers.

The problem I had with it was how people were making up for the lack of lights/electricity/etc. Instead of going to bed early, many chose to light candles as an alternative. And, while I certainly get besotted by the mood of candlelight and the warm, cozy feeling it invokes, it doesn't come without environmental consequence.

Here's the trade-off: if you get your electricity from green sources* (wind, hydro, solar, etc.), switching over to a seemingly innocuous candle is a bit of mental legerdemain. Were the candles 100% beeswax or soy with a 100% cotton wick? Or were they the cheaper paraffin (fossil fuel) kind? Did they burn cleanly or did they actually contribute to increased carbon dioxide emissions?

For those of you not intimately knowledgeable about standard paraffin candles, paraffin** is essentially hydrocarbon, or a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight from crude oil. Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting. In other words, for every paraffin candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.8 g of carbon dioxide.

And, for the record, beeswax candles can be considered "carbon neutral" in the sense that, even though it produces carbon dioxide when burned, it’s carbon that is naturally cycled through the ecospheric carbon cycle - not from fossil fuel. But throw in transportation and production energy costs and it gets a bit murky.

So, what was more of an impact? Clearly the total impact is dependent on what the originating source of electricity was as well as the candle choice, but why wasn't this addressed by any of the organizers? At the very least, I didn't see anything about it nor did I notice it mentioned on the blogs of those who participated. If you really want to make a statement about electricity usage, then it should have been all lights out!

Poll time!



Finally, did you put much thought into the alternative you were choosing? If you didn't, would you do things differently after reading this? If you didn't participate, would you consider this in the future when making a candle choice?

*Yes, I realize that there are some environmental consequences to the wind and hydro, but they are considerably smaller than that from nuclear, coal or other fossil fuel driven lighting.

**For all the nitty gritty explanations, science and physics that I've included here, please refer to the originating sources.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

My earth hour activity was to hand sew cloth produce bags by a candle. I don't get electricity from a green source (I live in a ahared house, and my house mates aren't interested.)

It was a mainstream candle, and the cloth was new, not reused... it was far from perfect. On the bright side, I've gotten a lot of good use out of the bags.

:0) kt

Anonymous said...

that should be "a shared"...

Robj98168 said...

I did not celebrate :-o I felt there were too many commercial interests being promoted.

Mud Mama said...

We used a rechargeable crank flashlight for the first lights out, and we do a power out every month. Since then we've left the kids with the flashlight (they have their own and we have another in the kitchen) and it has blessedly replaced their "need" for a nightlight.

We go to bed with the sun - kids earlier - already so the issue will be reexamined come fall I guess.

BUT I do make my own candles - with beeswax I get from a farm 3 km from here.

Mud Mama said...

Oh and I support it because it is something my entire extended family participates in and I like the connection and that one hour where we aren't the ecofreaks of the family :-)

zip said...

In 2007, when Dutch environmental agencies called for lights out, there were articles in the newspapers saying that if 1/3 of all households turned their lamps off at exactly the same time, the electricity network might shut down. I don't know if it is true, but it does make you wonder.

Malva said...

To me, the point of Earth Hour wasn't to reduce the amount of electricity used or trying to reduce pollution.

It was all about raising awareness. Awareness about how dependent of that nice warm lightbulb we really are. If we didn't have lighbulbs, we'd all be going to bed much earlier.

We actually chose to turn off all things electric for an hour and in my all electric house, it meant everytime the kids went to do something they'd normally be doing on a Saturday night they'd realize that it's something else powered by electricity.

BerryBird said...

I used traditional candles, but I did not buy them special for the event--they were ones we had lying around for year, stuffed in drawers. My grandmother used to give me candles all the time, apparently they are an item that commonly shows up inexpensively at garage sales. Thanks for the reminder about parrafin, though. When I worked in the lab we used to test for it, which is a pretty good indication that something is bad. Next time I buy candles, I will avoid paraffin.

What is your official Crunchy opinion on using up something you already have to reduce waste vs. buying a new greener product? Maybe you have a post on this in the archives? As an example, when I switched over to CFL bulbs, I did it gradually, as the incandescents burned out. I never pulled out and threw away and functioning bulbs--that would just seem wrong to me. That's where I am with the candles, use up my crap supply, then buy responsibly in the future.

AnnaMarie said...

I have to say I'm in the mode of trying not to turn lights on at all these days. I want to see if I can live without most of them. If I had a choice of candle it would be bayberry. Grow your own baby!

ehmeelu said...

Good post. I'd wondered about the candle thing. But then I live in Canada's Manitoba province, where we all call electricity "hydro" because that's how 98% of it is produced here, so I guess if we leave the "hydro" on it's less of a problem!

jayedee said...

pssssst we DID do the candle thing....but....they were candles i poured from my own beeswax gathered from our hives

Deb G said...

I'm not too fond of soy candles either. This is just a guess-but I'd bet they are made with genetically modified soy beans....

I turned all the power off except the 'fridge for Earth Hour and then fell asleep.

d said...

We actually switched off the breakers, so all the electricity in the apartment was off for an hour. Our electricity is hydro, and we don't use very much to begin with, so the environmental impact was minimal. It was a good demonstration of just how limited we were in what we could do for that hour without electricity. We were hoping more people would participate so we could see the stars, but it was not to be. For the record, we did light three "normal" candles for the hour.

Lynne Marie said...

I didn't participate because my friend's dance concert was happening at that time. But I have been attempting to use daylighting only or use my LED reading light when I wake up and need to read myself to sleep.

The Purloined Letter said...

Very interesting post. You clearly have a point about residential use.

However, since so many city government and big office buildings dramatically reduced their random overnight lights, I suspect the evening more than made up for itself, even though it was pretty much just symbollic.

As for us--we celebrate Earth Evening every Friday night. We light candles for Shabbat which we would have done anyway, but now don't keep the overhead lights on too....

Mme. Meow said...

Over here in DC, where the event was really not as publicized because that's DC for you, we sat back in pitch-blackness and enjoyed talking and playing with the kid and feeling a smug little air of superiority while watching all our neighbors keep the lights on-- some in two out of three floors plus basement.

Anonymous said...

I love it when the lights are low and there is no TV etc. We used the time to talk with our girls. When my dh worked shifts the house was quiet and restful by 7pm. I endeavour to have our home down to one light most nights and if the tv is off it is even better.

Moonwaves said...

Earth hour was pretty much ignored and non-publicised over here. Most people only found out about it afterwards or at most a day or two before the event.

The point you're making about candles is one I've thought about before (and similarly in relation to incense, which I love to burn). For candles I'm still using up the myriad cheap ones I've bought/been given over the years and shoved in the back of a drawer somewhere - I reckon another year or so should see them finished up. When it comes to buying more though, it's very hard to know what you're buying - as far as I know, most candles don't say on them what they're made of.

Sandy said...

Crunch,

I'm with berrybird. I used what I had laying around, and some of that is parrafin and some of that is beeswax. I won't throw out something I already have that will contribute to a landfill -- but I only buy beeswax candles. And not very often.

I don't light candles very often because of my allergies, anyway. I have chemical allergies and the candles really bother them. The non-beeswax ones anyway! When I found out how candles were made I stopped buying them.

E said...

We visited with off grid neighbors. So no lights on at our house.

Anonymous said...

Not too negative - just challenging.
When making decisions here's what I like to consider:

The Laws of Ecology by Ernest Callenbach:
"All things are interconnected.
Everything goes somewhere.
There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Nature bats last."

No easy answers or solutions to our current eco-conundrum.

Eva

hoorayparade said...

So I didn't participate, but we lost power Sunday morning and didn't get it back until Monday afternoon. A Yankee Candle was used for maybe about 15 minutes right before we went to sleep. Other than that it was wind up flash light.
It was really bizzare to me that after two hours of no power people were turning on their generators that they had from the HUGE ice storm we had in December. It really stayed cool enough to have the windows open.

Gas powered generators are noise polluters as well. I understand why some people need them for medical equipment and whatnot but it was like camping, only you didnt have to worry about your tent blowing over. Why can't other people look at it that way?

WILDBLUESbysus said...

Crunchy,
This isn't the next blockbuster film with all its paraphernalia, but real life. We have to look squarely at it. Thanks for your skill in calling attention to even the uncomfortable.

katecontinued said...

Great point about candles. This theme could be a regular feature as the greenwashing is increasing exponentially. Everything in one's life can continue as before, simply with a green label and some symbolic gesture towards change.

Most of all I thank you for legerdemain . . . I have learned a new word and I love it. This sleight of hand will be intense and we all will need to be able to point out why it is wrong.

arduous said...

Very interesting post, Crunchy. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and challenging us.

I didn't participate in Earth Hour because I thought it was a little too ... symbolic. I can appreciate a "ride your bike to work day" or a "ride PT to work day," or something like that, because I think that if people try that once they might continue. But I don't think very many people turn off their electricity and then thinks, "Oh, lights at night are over-rated. I love sitting around in the dark!"

Anyway, so I didn't participate.

Anonymous said...

I just took an hour long walk without any lights...

Anonymous said...

We just walked around the neighborhood, lots of other people were too. It seems silly to just sit around in the dark and be unproductive, that would feel like a punishment to me.

Rosa said...

I already had a pretty good stash of beeswax candles I keep on hand to give away whenever there's a peace vigil in our park. It just kills me to see people burning paraffin candles at the antiwar stuff, and that's always what the organizers bring for people who forgot.

But what we actually did for Earh Hour was turn off the lights and let my kid run around with the stupid shake-powered dim flashlight we have - he *loves* that game. It doesn't make that much difference since we buy wind power, but I like the symbolism and the practice at doing nonelectric stuff.

I ought to get a crank powered flashlight. Do people have real preferences about brand/style?

Oh, and we have a crank-powered radio that you can recharge cell phones on. I should get the cell phone dongles for it, now that we have cell phones.

Heather said...

Nice post, Crunchy. :)

Candles have been bothering me for awhile. I don't have a ton of environmentally-conscious friends, and I always feel like a conspiracy theorist when I say things around them like "Did you know candles are made of petroleum?" (Don't even get me started on plastic.)

I didn't participate in the Earth hour activity. Honestly, I didn't really know it was happening. It may have been publicized during my monthly hiatus from news media. :)
But it does sound kind of like greenwashing. Awareness is great, but substituting one carbon contributor for another should be warned against. Unfortunately, I'd bet the vast majority of participants never gave candles (or even the idea of going to bed earlier) a second thought.

Greenpa said...

Yeah, well, I want to see some good recipes- at least- for all those cracker crumbs you're generating Cruncherella! Crikey!

And I want to see flow diagrams, so we can be sure you're not generating MORE pollution than you're ALLEGEDLY counteracting! Do you drop them on the FLOOR? Then vacuum them? Or are you using an organic broomstraw broom to recover them for recycling?

HM?? HM?? Inquiring minds want to know!!

Melinda said...

We used a crank flashlight combined with a sole candle for Earth Hour. I ran a challenge over the past two months to continue an hour for the earth every week. It's symbolic. It's a way to get people who normally wouldn't think about it to START thinking about it. It's not an end in itself, it's a beginning.

I believe the main impact of Earth Hour was in getting large businesses to shut of their power. What earthly reason do our downtown buildings have to keep all those lights on? And the birds that would be saved, if they did this regularly...

I think it's good to question what we do for the earth, to make sure what we're doing is actually good for the earth. And I do think that next year it would be good to start addressing what you're doing when the lights are out, what candles you're burning, etc. HOWEVER, I also think that momentum is important for change. People were excited about earth hour. I think we should build on that excitement and help take it to another level, rather than to disparage it.

The same thing goes for Earth Day. I was disparaging the commercialism on Earth Day, and one of my readers reminded me that we could capitalize on the commercialism and use it to our advantage. He's right. I guess it's a way of looking at it positively versus negatively, of spinning it to our favor, instead of reducing the spin.

Alyclepal said...

We took a glass jar out of the recycle bin and filled it with one half cup of water. Then a half inch of veggie oil from the kitchen. A scrap of metal wire was coiled into a holder and some cotton twine was put on that and Viola--- an oil lamp. I've burned it about 24 hours total so far and still have enough oil for another 24 hrs I think. A tea light, in contrast, tends to last us about 4 hours.

Debbie said...

I took my dog for a walk and then I listened to the radio and knit by the light in my hand cranked flashlight/radio.

tortuga said...

Another question:
Did you postpone something you needed power to do anyway, say cooking dinner or watching a movie. It's not much of a savings since you just waited until after or did it before.

kimberly said...

i went to a party by candlelight at my friends' apartment, where they shut off all the power for the entire evening, beginning at 7pm. it was nice. we all hung out, ate, had lots of wine, etc. i'm not sure what type of candles they were. my apartment had one light on, and that was the heat lamp over my lizard's tank. i didn't feel like killing her...

@ melinda - i thought the same about office buildings leaving their lights on. but my friend brought to my attention that it might be required so that buildings are clearly visible to airplanes/helicopters at night. understandable, i think. if this is the reason though, then i think they should have a better system. like maybe just light the top floor. or have one room/office at the end of each side, all the way up the building, illuminated. that way the size/frame of the building is visible? i dunno... i'm sure i'm missing something here.

mollyjade said...

I sat outside on my porch and listened to my crank radio and talked to all the neighbors who walked by. Though I suppose I wasn't really in the dark since I could see by the light of the street lamp.

Harper said...

I turned off everything except the fridge and lit a couple of candles -- one beeswax and one mystery candle I've had awhile. For me it was more about how plugged-in I am most of the time. I elected to not use my battery-powered items as well and since it was a hot evening I used a cardboard fan with a wooden handle I received at an event. I use wind-powered electricity which I didn't really think about so no real eco impact. I ended up blowing out the candles after about 30 minutes because of the heat and just sat in the dark fanning myself and thinking about my addiction to gadgets. A quiet hour thinking was beneficial for me. I hadn't considered making the hour a regular thing but that sounds like a good idea.

Ellen said...

Well, we used a flashlight (rechargable batteries) but we didn't stay up very long. We didn't do our usual movie or checking blogs. We played cribbage. Maybe after this post though, next time we'll go to bed early. That's a better idea.

RC said...

No news about the activity here in PR, but I can say I shut off the power at home completely , permanently, some time ago. I only have power at the shop/office now.
I do the cooking and refrigerating there. Go to the office and eat there in the AM.
I'm upset that Greenpa almost stole my joke. I'm also alarmed that he and I think alike.
Crunchy, as you already know, I love the expression "grinds my crackers" and you haven't used it in a while, until today.
So I want to know, just what kind of power is used to grind those famous crackers?

Crunchy Chicken said...

RC - the crackers are ground into a fine powder using powerful jaw muscles. Being a descendant of Hominidae and sporting a small, but uniquely strong sagittal crest known to those of Polish origin, I have an uncanny ability to grind crackers with little effort.

In case of extremely difficult issues, my Buns of Steel(tm) can be used as a backup, where butt cheek clenching, although hazardous to bystanders, is also very effective. However, the clean-up is a little more difficult.

jennconspiracy said...

That said, I don't think you'd find your self thrown outta bed for eating crackers.

(sorry if that was nonsensical, it just kinda ... well... )

I was at a friend's play for Earth Hour - I just powered down everything like I usually do, except for the fridge, microwave clock and alarm clock, all the power strips were off.

Sally said...

We did Earth Hour, though I'm not sure anyone else in my neighborhood did. My 12-yr-old son and I lit a few of the candles still left in the house (paraffim, boo), and played Scrabble for an hour. He was desperate to turn the lights back on, I'm sad to say. I thought the gesture was tactically inadequate, but strategically essential-- my son's generation especially needs the reminder that electricity can't be taken for granted, and the consequences of its use must be understood.

Moreover, I've been ranting about "light pollution" for some time now and so I was very keen to support an activity that might help us to recover the wonders of the night sky. I was very impressed by the organizers' efforts to raise consciousness, esp. among businesses.

And yes, when I do this again (and I will), we will DEFINITELY use soy or beeswax candles, and moreover I'll find us a crank-powered flashlight, which we should have anyway.

Holly said...

Your post reminded me of a recurring problem I have in my attempts to be a responsible occupant of planet earth (not to mention mother, wife, friend, employee...).

So many things have no good alternative, or the alternatives must be thought and planned out way in advance in order to stop making an even bigger fool of oneself.

For example: I went to my cousin's wedding last weekend. (Okay, it was in Kansas, and we burned a LOT of gas to get there...but at least there were five of us in the van.) At the reception, they served a roast hog of unknown provenance. Now, I'm extremely loathe to feed my daughter (not to mention myself) non-organic meat or dairy products, because it is now terrifyingly legal for cloned animals to be used in non-organic food production. So the quandary: do we eat the food and take our chances? Or NOT eat the food, hurt my aunt's feelings, and have to find some other place to eat dinner after the reception--in a small town, where there are VERY few eateries.

Tough choice. We ate the hog. My uncle (who raises beef cattle and mocks me regularly for buying in to the organic lifestyle) did not pass up the chance to tease me about it.

Green Bean said...

I both participated and promoted it on my blog. I feel like Earth Hour was a good opportunity for folks to get their big toe wet, to start thinking about small changes they can make to live differently.

I do agree with you about the paraffin candles. We stayed up - I wish I could go to bed earlier but I seem incapable, hence the black circles under my eyes. We used beeswax candles from my favorite farmers' market beekeeper. It smells delicious, burns cleanly, supports those poor honey bees and provides a warm light that eventually lulls me into sleepihood.

Beany said...

Haha! I love your new slogan: mental in environmental.

I've been going without lights on and off since last september. I used candles made from beeswax b/c of the petroleum in other candles. I don't like symbolic gestures...because its symbolic. But I like to be a sport. So I participated in Earth Day. I don't know what made me start it..but I find it very relaxing. B/c it was dark I was able to go to bed earlier and sleep better. Plus there is very little to do when you can't see much.

Laura said...

My partner, David, and I had a day of no power. We used paraffin candles because we already had them from years ago. We are both much more conscious of burning candles, particularly the icky paraffin kind.

I'm gonna be a bees wax only gal from now on. :)

Jessica said...

I did not participate in Earth Hour (I'm too out of the loop on these things), but this post got me thinking. Personally, I'm a night owl. Like, to a point where it's kind of making me sick to go to my 6am job because I physically cannot get to sleep before midnight (and believe me, I have tried). So going to bed with the sun is not really practical for me.

So I was thinking, obviously the solution to this problem is to be more social in the evenings. All of my friends in one apartment/bar/coffeeshop? Genius. Besides, in a bar the power will be on anyway! It's like mass transit... FOR LIGHTS.

Please lets just ignore the fact that this is likely just a personal excuse to spend more time at the Stumbling Monk. The theory still works!

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