No, Changing A Light Bulb Won’t Fix Everything.

David Quilty

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November 11, 2008

But it’s a start, don’t you think? Movements throughout history have normally started small, with momentum building towards a crescendo when the times finally change for good. Start small, end big. And while we might not have 100 years to start reducing our negative effect on the environment, isn’t it great that people who otherwise would never have cared are starting to care? They are starting to change a single light bulb or carry a single reusable bag to the store. They have bought a reusable bottle to bring water with them instead of buying new plastic ones every day. They are doing something…and we have to applaud that.

We know that a single light bulb being changed out is not going to save the world; we are not so naive to think otherwise. But one light bulb leads to two, which leads to three, which leads eventually to the entire house. The next time we need an appliance, we might pick up an Energy Star rated one because we remembered that they save energy and money. Next time we need to replace the insulation in the attic, we might remember the story on the news where a guy used shredded old blue jeans for insulation instead of the fiberglass stuff. It goes on and on – from here on out, most people will at least consider the “greener” alternative…which is something that just 10 years ago would have been unfathomable.

Granted, we are in the middle of a real climate crisis and we need to act now. You don’t see it right in front of you yet – you see it in increased storm strength, longer winters and summers, more severe droughts. Be glad that everyday people are changing their habits now instead of when their house floats away or the water dries up. Is it too little too late? We don’t know yet – but I highly doubt I will see the end of the world as we know it in my lifetime. But I do imagine that things will get a bit rougher while I am still alive, and then what will my kids or their kids be dealing with? We just don’t know – but that doesn’t mean people are not concerned and willing to start changing habits now.

Too many environmental pundits say that changing a light bulb won’t make a difference, and I completely disagree. Would more drastic action serve us better? Sure, of course. Would we benefit from solar panels on every roof, 100% electric cars powered by said panels, the closing of coal plants and the construction of wind turbines across the desert? Absolutely. But we also benefit from people doing their small part too, and combining these smaller steps with the bigger ones is just what might save our butts. Does one light bulb slow down climate change? Nope. But one light bulb means less electricity needs to be generated, which means less coal needs to be burned, which means less pollution and carbon dioxide goes into the environment, which means less damage to the ozone layer, less acid rain, and less trapped heat. It’s a long chain that gets pulled for that one single light bulb.

We all need to do more, no doubt. But change is slow – we already know this from history. And it’s even slower when you don’t see consequences right in front of your eyes. So the fact that anyone is doing anything is a giant step in the right direction. The key is to encourage everyone to at least do something, which then leads to another step and then another. Remember that old expression “There is no I in team?“. In this case, there is – each action by each individual does matter for both themselves and the rest of the population. Change comes slowly – but there is absolutely no need to discourage people by telling them that changing a light bulb doesn’t matter, when we know for sure that it does. It’s not just where people begin; you also have to consider where they end up.