Out go the lights


I’ve written a couple of times in the past about environmentalism (here) and energy conservation (here and here), and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Humans have apparently used up about half of all the oil reserves on Earth. Not only are we using oil at an ever-increasing rate, which means we’re going to burn through the second half (see what I did there?) much faster than the first half, but second half of the oil reserves are much harder to get to than the first. Since we’ve only really been using oil since the industrial revolution, this means that we might have a couple of hundred years of oil left, probably much less. If we don’t find sustainable and renewable sources of energy by then, well, pardon my French, but we’re pooched. And then there is the added complication of global warming and carbon emissions. There are some that say that global warming may be happening but is not caused by humans. This is certainly possible, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on it, but I cannot imagine that the chemicals we’re regularly dumping into the atmosphere in unbelievable amounts are having no impact.

And yet, there are still people who don’t get the message, and we as a society don’t seem concerned. It’s February, for crying out loud, and there are still houses in my neighbourhood that have their Christmas lights on. I’m not talking about lights still being up (ours remain up until spring, when it’s safe to climb on the roof to take them down), I mean actually on.

We were in Brantford on Friday, and on the way home (around 9:30pm) we drove by a garden centre on Hwy 5 that had a big illuminated sign out front that said “Closed for the season”. I understand that they want to keep their business in people’s minds so that in the spring, people will remember that garden centre on Hwy 5 and go there. If the sign is off all winter, people might think that it’s closed permanently, or might simply not see it and therefore not register that there’s a garden centre there. In that respect, it’s in the business’s best interest to have the sign lit.

But the garden centre is closed from roughly October until April, so it’s possible that for seven months of the year, this sign is on all night every night, advertising a business that is closed. I suspect that the number of people who drive by that sign at 3:30am and think “Hey, there’s a garden centre here! I’ll have to come back here in the spring!” is pretty low. Perhaps I’m not giving the business owners enough credit; it could be that the sign comes on at dusk and goes off around midnight rather than staying on all night. This is certainly not unlikely. And perhaps they’re using very energy-efficient lighting — also not unlikely. And maybe there’s a little solar panel on top that gives some energy so they use less from the power grid. Hmmm…. possible, but probably not. Or maybe there’s a big solar panel on top that provides all the energy and this sign is completely off the grid. Now we’re getting into pipe dream territory.

On a somewhat-related note, the men’s bathroom at work used to have a sign by the door asking people to turn the lights off when they leave if there’s nobody there. For a few months, this worked — most of the time when I entered the room and it was empty, the lights were off. (There’s one light that stays on all the time, but the switch controls three or four other lights. I think that one light is fine by itself, so I almost never turn the lights on anyway.) Then the sign by the door fell down and vanished, and now when I enter the room, the lights are on about half the time. People: just because the sign isn’t there anymore doesn’t mean you need to leave the lights on!

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