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What if We Measured Energy Usage in Lumps of Coal?

Filed in Energy Conservation , Frugal Living , Green Living 3 comments

Ever run into one of those people who refuse to turn off a light when they leave the room?

Or worse, those folks that put up so many Christmas lights that you can probably see their home from space?

Congrats!  You’ve just anonymously met one of my neighbors.  Nice guy, nice family and all that, but we occasionally butt heads when it comes to energy conservation.

I want people to conserve more energy because I’m a reluctant treehugger and energy conservation actually saves people money.  He could care less about the environment and comes from an affluent family.

So you can see why we have a gentleman like debate everytime the subject of energy conservation comes up.

Until today.  I finally made him a convert.

A New Way to Convince Someone to Use Less Energy!

Let me first say this is not my original idea, but one that I’ve adapted from a TED conference video I saw a few weeks ago.

I told my neighbor not to think of energy usage in terms of watts, dollar bills, or even his carbon footprint — but think of energy as lumps of coal!

Actual, physical, real life lumps of coal.  The kind that lodges under your fingernails for a week and requires vaseline to clean the tops of eyelids (hat tip to Morgan Spurlock for that juicy bit of info).

In the video below, Jay Walker (curator of the Library of Human Imagination) reminds the attendees that the Internet, in all it’s blind hope for a Going Paperless utopia, is still powered by electricity.  And in the U.S., roughly 50% of all electricity still comes from coal fired power plants.

[Skip to minute marker 6:10 for coal energy remarks]

As Jay mentions in the video, downloading 1MB of information requires the energy contained in a golfball sized lump of coal.  A 200MB file takes the equivalent of a bag of charcoal.

Making you Readjust your Thinking

I’m not sure how many lumps of coal you burn when you accidently leave the garage light when you leave for work.  I’m not sure how much coal you’re burning due to the vampire power sucking excess energy to power your unused DVR or computer printer.

But you’re probably wondering just how many lumps of coal were burned today because of you.  Aren’t you?

Being that I grew up in an area known for its coal mines, I have a better than average viewpoint of how dirty coal can really be.  If you’ve never encountered the stuff, I suggest you try picking up a small piece sometime.  You’ll be cleaning your hands for days, which is why Mr. Walker has his lump of coal is a Ziploc bag.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the Internet, or suggest we abandon all hope that clean coal technology is a viable alternative energy solution (Pickens Plan anyone?), but I simply raise the point that there is more than one way to convince someone to see your point of view when it comes to conservation.

And it doesn’t have to be just energy conservation.  Whether it’s saving money, saving the environment or saving the spotted owl, if you can adequately shift the conversation to units of measure people can understand and relate to, sometimes a few simple words is all it takes.

Got any other ways to get someone to shut off the lights?  I’m all ears.

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Posted by CJ   @   4 February 2009 3 comments
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Feb 9, 2009
8:33 am

We have a coal/ wood-burning stove and I know firsthand how dirty coal is. Anthracite burns more cleanly than the softer coals but still — I am not a fan. Thinking about energy use in terms of lumps of coal certainly puts things into perspective.

Sep 5, 2009
11:58 am
#2 neil :

Thanks for the concept. If I use the “lumps-of-coal” idea, I’ll give you credit.

Sep 5, 2009
12:07 pm
#3 Matt :

Thanks Neil. I find it useful to think of it that way since I grew up in a coal producing region of the U.S.

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