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"the horrible things that come for us when everything goes dark."
March 12, 2014 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Drowning In Light
n 1996, Yale economist William D. Nordhaus calculated that the average citizen of Babylon would have had to work a total of 41 hours to buy enough lamp oil to equal a 75-watt light bulb burning for one hour. At the time of the American Revolution, a colonial would have been able to purchase the same amount of light, in the form of candles, for about five hour’s worth of work. And by 1992, the average American, using compact fluorescents, could earn the same amount of light in less than one second. That sounds like a great deal. Except for one thing: We treat light like a drug whose price is spiraling toward zero.
posted by the man of twists and turns (75 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Photos from ISS of of brightly-lit night time earth make me nostalgic for the dark nights I grew up with. It's very sad to see so much glare.
posted by anadem at 8:32 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


-1 on light pollution. Traveling from NYC to say the Grand Canyon, its mind-boggling how different the night sky looks.

BTW, f.lux is a great program.
posted by sfts2 at 8:40 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


It's very sad to see so much glare.

And annoys me at how pointless is - all those office buildings with all the lights on in the middle of the night.

In the UK, natural gas and electricity are expensive and getting more expensive. I now just keep lights on in the room I'm in and am generally much more careful about how I use energy. My power bill has now fallen so much that, because the power company take a standing amount based on past usage, I've gone on a payment holiday for several months as they use the cash they already have from me.

It's good for the soul to use power sparingly and treat it as a luxury. I despair at people who treat energy like a bottomless well. We'll have enough, at a price. But future generations might well look at us in the same way we view colonial types in the Raj who decorated their house with tiger skins.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:40 AM on March 12 [17 favorites]


At a former employer we had clients based in the oil-rich state of Kuwait.

I shit you not: they had some rooms in their office that did not have light switches. The lights were simply ON 25/7/365.

Welcome to the new prosperity.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:47 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]


In the UK, natural gas and electricity are expensive and getting more expensive. I now just keep lights on in the room I'm in and am generally much more careful about how I use energy. My power bill has now fallen so much that, because the power company take a standing amount based on past usage, I've gone on a payment holiday for several months as they use the cash they already have from me.

About 7-8 years ago, when that "Live Earth" multi-city charity concert thing was happening, my roommate and I watched; in between each of the acts, the TV broadcast periodically showed these little 2-3 minute PSA films that had "suggestions about what you can do to save the Earth!"

After about four or five of those spots, my roommate and I looked at each other with dawning realization that we were pretty much already doing everything that the PSAs were suggesting - only, we weren't doing them to save the Earth, we were doing them to save oodles of money on our utilities. Ever since, I've wondered why on earth the environmental movement doesn't talk that angle of conservation up more - people who may get their noses out of joint if you try to persuade them "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room or else global warming" might be way much more down with "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills". "Global Warming" may be a thing up for debate in some quarters, but everyone is down with the idea of saving money.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on March 12 [15 favorites]


Anyone have a link or reference for the original Nordhaus article? I cant find it on SSRN.
posted by shothotbot at 8:50 AM on March 12


"turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills".

What are you lighting your rooms with, one of those pylons that illuminate night games at stadiums? How are you not blind?
posted by indubitable at 8:55 AM on March 12 [26 favorites]


I've been spending a fair bit of time lately researching peak oil. The more I read, the more and more and more scary it is. Oil underpins every aspect of our society, there is a finite supply, and we are burning through it like it's going out of style.

Peak oil was in 2005 (from conventional sources). The supplies have been kept up by massive (and I mean MASSIVE - 4 trillion dollars between 05-15) investments in finding and extracting poorer sources of oil, like tight oil via fracking and the Alberta tar sands. These investments have not budged the price of oil much and now it costs 10x capital spending to provide the same barrel of oil today compared to 2005.

Worse yet, the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) of oil has been getting steadily worse since the 70s, as we've used up the best and easiest sources first and are now turning to harder to extract sources and sources that require more processing.

Dwindling oil supply is going to hit global society harder and faster than climate change will.
posted by zug at 8:55 AM on March 12


...we were pretty much already doing everything that the PSAs were suggesting - only, we weren't doing them to save the Earth, we were doing them to save oodles of money on our utilities.

Poorcraft/thrift = environmentalism

Reusing and repairing things to extend their useful life also saves you money. Who knew?!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]


I shit you not: they had some rooms in their office that did not have light switches. The lights were simply ON 25/7/365.

Welcome to the new prosperity.


Not totally new. When the BC Hydro building (now condos) was constructed in the mid-1950s, there were no light switches there either. They have since been added, of course.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:00 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


During the last big NYC blackout, Bloomberg kept insisting that the power would go back on any minute, so my friends and I headed to where we thought the coolest place in town would be to watch the lights turn back on - Times Square. It didn't work (power didn't come back till around 5 am and we left around 3), but for the first couple of hours - before they set up emergency kliegs everywhere because traffic wasn't stopping, lights or not - you could see the whole night sky (so many stars!) from the center of Times Square. One of my all-time favorite memories. (followed by the bus driver on the way home saying "Okay - I think this is 63rd street... Next should be Lincoln Center, I think...)
posted by Mchelly at 9:00 AM on March 12 [14 favorites]


Ever since, I've wondered why on earth the environmental movement doesn't talk that angle of conservation up more - people who may get their noses out of joint if you try to persuade them "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room or else global warming" might be way much more down with "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills"

Ideological purity, sadly. People think that if they get the results accomplished with the wrong message, they've somehow failed. I encountered this in the anti-war movement, with people who didn't want to ally with fiscal hawks who thought the war cost too much money, because they had the "wrong message".
posted by corb at 9:02 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]


What are you lighting your rooms with, one of those pylons that illuminate night games at stadiums?

Heh; I pulled the "$500 a year" figure out of my ass. However, the pre-installed fixtures in my apartment use these $8 dollar halogen bulbs I have to get special at the hardware store; they're pretty bright, and they eat energy like a mofo, so I tend to be pretty conservative with them and stick to the smaller plug-in lamps I had. I also try to unplug the chargers for things when they're not charging and do other things like that. My ultilites consistently come in cheaper than what it says on the bill is what the average user pays.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on March 12


I also note that the people designing our electronics and devices seem to be afraid of the dark. The power strip by my bed had a red LED bright enough to read by. My alarm clock had three settings, painfully bright, bright enough to read by, and bright enough to make the entire bedroom visible. My beside phone had a bright blue LED, my cellphone charger had a bright red LED, as does my cell when it's charging, the humidifier had an amber glowing bit, even my power toothbrush glows, blinks, and generally emits more light than needed.

Fortunately, I have wire cutters. Problem solved! My bedroom is now almost pitch black at night, the way I like it.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:05 AM on March 12 [12 favorites]


Heh; I pulled the "$500 a year" figure out of my ass

And even if that were accurate, how many people would give a shit about saving that tiny amount of money? My monthly bills are more than that.
posted by Melismata at 9:13 AM on March 12


After about four or five of those spots, my roommate and I looked at each other with dawning realization that we were pretty much already doing everything that the PSAs were suggesting - only, we weren't doing them to save the Earth, we were doing them to save oodles of money on our utilities. Ever since, I've wondered why on earth the environmental movement doesn't talk that angle of conservation up more - people who may get their noses out of joint if you try to persuade them "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room or else global warming" might be way much more down with "turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills". "Global Warming" may be a thing up for debate in some quarters, but everyone is down with the idea of saving money.

Ideology, political identity, probably more. I know people on the left who would balk at environmentalism for the wrong reason, fiscal prudence being something that motivates conservatives, not environmentalists. The same goes for people on the right who choose incandescent bulbs because they feel they're sticking it to the liberals by doing so.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:17 AM on March 12


And even if that were accurate, how many people would give a shit about saving that tiny amount of money?

....You're calling $500 tiny? That's, like, half my monthly rent. There are a lot of people for whom $500 is actually rather a big amount.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on March 12 [34 favorites]


I actually save about 1200$ a year, personally, when my family turns off the fucking lights and game consoles. Though it may be because like EmpressCallipygos, we have freakishly energy-eating bulbs.

It is not an insignificant amount of money, though I agree that even $500 a year is meaningful.
posted by corb at 9:18 AM on March 12


And even if that were accurate, how many people would give a shit about saving that tiny amount of money? My monthly bills are more than that.

My annual bills, for a poorly insulated 3 bed Victorian house in energy-expensive UK, are now coming out at about $1,500.

My best friend friend, who lives outside London in a large new build house which he lavishly heats and lights spends that in two months.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:21 AM on March 12


In the UK, natural gas and electricity are expensive and getting more expensive.

In the UK, domestic gas and electricity prices are the cheapest and the 5th cheapest respectively in Europe. The inability of the public to properly insulate their houses1, reduce interior temperatures, and replace inefficient appliances is almost exclusively to blame for high energy bills in this country. If the full externality cost of all that non-renewable energy was included, these prices would be considerably higher than they are.

(1) Admittedly, many people live in council or privately owned rented accommodation, so might not be able to make changes to windows or insulation, but plenty of owner occupied properties have thermal characteristics best described as: garbage.
posted by atrazine at 9:22 AM on March 12


I also note that the people designing our electronics and devices seem to be afraid of the dark. The power strip by my bed had a red LED bright enough to read by...

Or they think it's vitally important that we be able to see the replace toner light outside, at noon, on a clear day.

Fortunately, I have wire cutters. Problem solved! My bedroom is now almost pitch black at night, the way I like it.

These work wonders for covering all those little lights. Plus, they're not permanent.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:26 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Our total electric bill for a year is about $850. More than half of that is summer air conditioning. (Though we do have a gas furnace and water heater.)

Maybe another benefit of living in the Midwest? I was bragging elsewhere about our $700/month mortgage on our 3 bedroom house.


I also note that the people designing our electronics and devices seem to be afraid of the dark.

Yeah. Our alarm clock is annoyingly bright. The light in our "office" bedroom from the cable modem, router, USB hubs and various other small lights is nearly enough to read by.
posted by Foosnark at 9:28 AM on March 12


Heh; I pulled the "$500 a year" figure out of my ass

The most energy hungry fixture in my apartment is rated at 125W (incandescent bulb candelabra dealie). Assuming an energy price of $0.12/kWh, if I were to leave it on 24/7/365, it would cost me about $19/year. That's why I'm incredulous.
posted by indubitable at 9:38 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]


But plenty of owner occupied properties have thermal characteristics best described as: garbage.

I've been quoted as much as £25k ($40k) to replace 12 windows from single glazed to double glazed. It's a big old chunk of change for something which, apparently, adds little or no value to your house.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:39 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I was bragging elsewhere about our $700/month mortgage on our 3 bedroom house.

*weeps bloody tears*
posted by corb at 9:44 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]


Analyzing data sets spanning three centuries and six continents, Tsao and his coworkers at Sandia have concluded that “the result of increases in luminous efficacy has been an increase in demand for energy used for lighting that nearly exactly offsets the efficiency gains—essentially a 100% rebound in energy use.”

I have noticed this around here.
Whenever a building or groundscape is redone these days, the old lights are replaced with "energy efficient" LEDs.
But since they are so much cheaper to run, the very strong temptation is to add more of them.

The thinking seems to be "If we spent $400 on electric before, and switching to LED saves us $200, we can add enough lights so we hit $300 and we've still saved 25%!"
The net effect is more illumination per foot.

Fortunately, my town has a decent "dark sky" ordinance.
Unfortunately, it is one of the easiest things to get a variance on, and is often ignored.
posted by madajb at 9:48 AM on March 12


The most energy hungry fixture in my apartment is rated at 125W (incandescent bulb candelabra dealie). Assuming an energy price of $0.12/kWh, if I were to leave it on 24/7/365, it would cost me about $19/year.

Hey, if you don't want an extra $19 a year you can send it to me, I'd be happy to have it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


I've been quoted as much as £25k ($40k) to replace 12 windows from single glazed to double glazed. It's a big old chunk of change for something which, apparently, adds little or no value to your house

I replaced every window in my 4 bedroom house for $6k. I did it with my father-in-law and it took us just about two days. since you have a similar size house, that's ~2500/hr for labor.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:49 AM on March 12


I will add this to the list of things to be really concerned about
posted by thelonius at 9:50 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Traveling from NYC to say the Grand Canyon, its mind-boggling how different the night sky looks.

Unfortunately, even from the Grand Canyon you can see the glow of Las Vegas over 200 miles away. Only from the bottom of the Canyon is it completely dark, and only because you can see just a small portion of the sky straight up. On a cloudy night even straight up is not completely dark because of distant light reflected by the clouds.
posted by JackFlash at 10:01 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


The most energy hungry fixture in my apartment is rated at 125W (incandescent bulb candelabra dealie). Assuming an energy price of $0.12/kWh, if I were to leave it on 24/7/365, it would cost me about $19/year

$131/year.
posted by ryanrs at 10:14 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]


The lights were simply ON 25/7/365.

Dubai has 25-hour days?
posted by Sleeper at 10:20 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


On the grander question of light, I would recommend "At Day's Close" which is a history of night before electric lights. I would recommend it, but the book itself, while full of good ideas is actually kind of weirdly written.

Instead, read this awesome history in the Guardian about life before electric lights.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:21 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


In my experience, the "environmental movement" does, in fact, talk about conservation, but it makes much more sense to talk about replacing incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient replacements (CFL, LED) than it does to hector people about leaving their lights on. Of course you don't want to leave bulbs on willy-nilly regardless of how much energy they use, but people will, because people forget stuff. On the other hand, replacing a 60w incandescent with a bulb that uses 1/6th of the energy will save energy whether people leave them on or off.

With more efficient bulbs, it makes more sense to talk about things like more efficient furnaces/AC units, insulation, etc. than to worry about bulbs, which, once you switch away from incandescents, are close to a rounding error.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:23 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Dr. Twist, the difference in price is likely due to the fact that it's much easier to replace the windows of US style wood frame plus cardboard structures than of UK/European style brick and mortar ones. On top of that there's often the built-in external roller shades to deal with which live in a wall cavity above the window frame and run in a channel that's part of the frame.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:33 AM on March 12


We spent $400 on heating our house last month (which is the most we've ever spent) - I'd be pretty excited to save $500/year. Actually I was excited about that - we got a snazzy new thermostat (that actually does things like turn off the heat when the house is warm enough) to replace our 1950's Honeywell and our monthly bills dropped about $50-100. We're actually renovating this month to fix another issue and are taking the opportunity to add insulation to our walls (as a Canadian, I'm flabbergasted that our Tennessee house didn't get built with insulation, but nobody here seems to find it particularly odd).

In summary, energy use is a land of contrasts.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:33 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


$131/year.

Whoops, yeah, off by a factor of 7. My point still stands, though -- as tonycpsu just said, turning off lights is basically a rounding error.
posted by indubitable at 10:40 AM on March 12


Whoops, yeah, off by a factor of 7.

*One* of you is off by a factor of seven.

Note, however, that there are not 365 weeks per year consisting of 7 24-hour days each.
posted by balberth at 10:49 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine went to Turkmenistan a few years back. One of the things he told me was that light bulbs were super expensive, but power was essentially free (Turkmenistan is an oil rich state), so the people wouldn't ever turn off the lights in their homes, because turning on and off the bulbs would shorten their life.
posted by topogopo at 10:50 AM on March 12


"turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills".

Residential lighting consumption [in the US] was about 186 billion kWh or 13% of all residential electricity consumption [in 2011]. This is non-trivial but the next question is how much of that can you save.

Heating is area with the real potential for saving of course. An average US domestic premises will use about 20,000kWh/year of energy and 60% of that will be on space heating. But ignoring lighting energy usage is a bad idea.

There are quite a few stories of ex-soviet bloc apartment blocks with heating networks where no-one would fix a broken window as the heat was (a) cheap and (b) paid for by someone else.
posted by biffa at 11:07 AM on March 12


There are quite a few stories of ex-soviet bloc apartment blocks with heating networks where no-one would fix a broken window as the heat was (a) cheap and (b) paid for by someone else.

And having one spot in a too-warm room that is icy cold is just so good.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:21 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I live in the sticks outside Omaha. I used to have a reasonably dark sky. Google is putting a data center in up the road a bit, though, and -- not kidding -- they have about 500 obscenely bright streetlamps lighting up their parking lot.... i guess so they can see the deer? that's not helping make my sky any darker. They could have gotten by with 6x fewer lights and still had visibilty; but some jackass city dweller decided to spec it out like they were lighting the inside of a machine room. it's pointlessly stupid, and it's the first time i've actually hated how much money Google has, that they can just waste it like this.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 11:24 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


The lights were simply ON 25/7/365.
Dubai has 25-hour days?


Permanent Daylight Savings to get more efficiency out of workers.
posted by yerfatma at 11:41 AM on March 12


Dubai has 25-hour days?

They are so wealthy that they bought themselves a whole other hour of day.
posted by Renoroc at 11:59 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


the people wouldn't ever turn off the lights in their homes, because turning on and off the bulbs would shorten their life.

This isn't true, either in Turkmenistan or anywhere else. On-off cycles do not affect the life of incandescent and halogen lights.

On-off cycles will shorten the life of fluorescents, but not as much as people seem to think. If you are going to leave a room for more than a few minutes it is economical in terms of energy savings and lamp life, to turn the fluorescents off. Not sure about LED's but I doubt if on-off cycles affect their life much.
posted by tommyD at 12:00 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I read an article the other day about crowd sourcing loans for home solar in the US. It was geared towards investors but it's a pretty genius idea for home owners too. I have a huge south facing roof and I could easily power a couple houses.
posted by fshgrl at 12:07 PM on March 12


If you're interested in this stuff "Brilliant" by Jane Brox is a great book on the development of artificial light sources and the effects on society throughout history. Highly recommend.
posted by fshgrl at 12:09 PM on March 12


Where are all the sitcom dads shutting off the lights and goaltending the thermostats?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:14 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, even from the Grand Canyon you can see the glow of Las Vegas over 200 miles away. Only from the bottom of the Canyon is it completely dark, and only because you can see just a small portion of the sky straight up. On a cloudy night even straight up is not completely dark because of distant light reflected by the clouds.

I spent last weekend at the bottom of Grand Canyon. There was a bright moon in the sky at dusk, and my girlfriend and I lay down on a sandy beach and watched the stars come out one by one. Early in the morning I woke up to go to the bathroom, and the moon was gone. The sky was beautiful.

You can see a little bit of sky glow on the horizon from Vegas. But Flagstaff, which is much closer, has taken incredible steps to keep their light pollution under control. This is a great article on the subject. It contains a section titled "Victory for the Forces of Darkness".

The comment I quoted above is accurate, but I hope it doesn't dissuade anyone from visiting. The darkest thing I've ever seen has been the inside of Grand Canyon on a moonless night. The experience is well worth it. If you are interested in astronomy at all, there is a star party at the park from June 21 - 28 this year.
posted by compartment at 12:37 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Whoops, yeah, off by a factor of 7. My point still stands, though -- as tonycpsu just said, turning off lights is basically a rounding error.

Wait, you think $131 PER LIGHTBULB is a rounding error? That's like 3-4 months of electricity for me and my partner. (Heat and stove are gas, which costs about the same in winter months, obviously less in the summer.) I'm terrified of how much you spend on electricity. Maybe you should try turning off some lights.
posted by aspo at 12:52 PM on March 12


*sigh* No, I'm saying that, even in the worst, most unrealistic case of running a bright fixture 24/7, you won't even approach that ludicrous $500 figure. Shaving off a couple of hours a year by turning off the lights when you leave the room is like, literally pennies.
posted by indubitable at 1:04 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


No, I'm saying that, even in the worst, most unrealistic case of running a bright fixture 24/7, you won't even approach that ludicrous $500 figure. Shaving off a couple of hours a year by turning off the lights when you leave the room is like, literally pennies.

...Setting aside the fact that I already admitted to pulling that figure out of my ass, will you alternately accept my testimony about my utility bills consistently showing me that my electricity usage is markedly lower than the average usage rates for similar households in the same period in my area?

Okay, maybe it isn't $500, but it isn't "pennies" either. And I have the evidence to attest to that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I really think Empress isn't even that far off. My own electric bill literally can fluctuate by 100$ a month. It's pretty crazy. If it's not appliances turned on, I have no idea what it could be.
posted by corb at 1:13 PM on March 12


And I see you are conveniently ignoring that I talked about doing other things aside from simply turning off lights when I left a room - things like "unplugging your phone charger when your phone is charged" and "turning off your cable box when you're done watching TV" and "cleaning the dust off the coil in the back of the fridge" and "defrosting the freezer regularly" and a score of other things are all in that range of "things I do that not only save electricity but also keep my utility bills down quite low, thank you."

I mean, sheesh, you're making it sound like I claim to turn a single light off with a flourish and announce, "lo, I have conserved the rent money with this one single lamp, HUZZAH FRUGALITY."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


I read an article the other day about crowd sourcing loans for home solar in the US. It was geared towards investors but it's a pretty genius idea for home owners too. I have a huge south facing roof and I could easily power a couple houses.

You would want to be pretty careful about the contracts associated with this. What happens when you want to move out? Is a buyer going to have to take over a contract to supply power to your funders? Will that reduce your pool of buyers and/or push down the price you get? The domestic subsidies for PV in the UK have been sufficient that some companies have been paying for panels to be installed on people's homes, letting them have free electricity and the installing company keeps all the subsidy. The problem is with the householder being locked in to a 15 or 20 year contract.
posted by biffa at 1:34 PM on March 12


But you don't only have one lightbulb per unused room, and presumably you are leaving them on for a while. (5 minutes here and there, yes it's a rounding error.) If you aren't turning off lights you are presumably at least doubling the number of lights that are left on. So that's like double your lighting electricity.
posted by aspo at 2:01 PM on March 12


My first act as mayor will be to pass light laws, banning buildings from having lights on when there are no occupants.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:02 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


But you don't only have one lightbulb per unused room, and presumably you are leaving them on for a while.

I'm starting to think that some of you are being paid off by Con Ed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:10 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, back to the fabulous article we could be discussing instead of someone's made up numbers, what the hell is with the addiction metaphor? That seems to be a popular scolding tone used specifically when it comes to energy conservation, particularly addicted to oil imagery.

Using "addiction" as a general descriptor for "doesn't control use of" cheapens the struggles of people with real addictions. It also muddies the waters, specifically in the case of light, since there are some very interesting connections of light cycles on physiology.

On the topic of light pollution, if you haven't seen it then the Dark Sky Map is interesting and useful for backyard astronomy.
posted by Nelson at 4:32 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Our Vanishing Night - "Most city skies have become virtually empty of stars."

One of the most beautiful and eye opening memories of actually being like, an adult human i have is a revelation about this.

I had gone camping in the woods as a kid and seen the stars, but i had basically forgotten. My teen years were spent in the city struggling through various levels of homelessness, awful highschool experiences, and other crap. The few road trips and such i went on were just through or to areas either in or near populated cities where you could still only see a couple stars at most.

Then me and my friends band/electronic music project got invited to play at a big dance festival in the middle of fucking nowhere. Like, you drive on the highway until you're in nowhere, then you get off the highway and drive for hours on little tiny two lane highways with no guardrails until you're just on dirt roads, then you drive some more.

I arrived during the day and it was hot as hell. We unpacked our stuff, had a few drinks, hunted around for some wilder stuff and explored the place.

Then it got dark.

Compared to anything i had ever seen the sky looked like one of those freaking hubble deep field photos. There were colors, and constellations, and seriously so many stars that it looked like some desktop wallpaper from the 90s chopped out of a NASA photo.

I distinctly remember looking up at the sky and going "Holy SHIT". It was moving. Like, to tears moving. I was elbowing my friends and going "shut the fuck up. look up, LOOK AT THIS".

I'm fairly convinced a lot of people i know have really never seen that, or if they did it was so long ago they've completely forgotten. If you ask them about space, or how the sky looks they'll go "oh yea, space is cool" but they don't even really know what i'm talking about.

I don't know what my point is. Basically just, light pollution is sad. The sky is beautiful, and people are robbed of the wonder. And stuff.

Or maybe i was completely geeked out and hadn't eaten anything but chef boyardee canned macaroni, i think a couple carrots, and cold fried eggs for days. I like the romantic version more though.

My first act as mayor will be to pass light laws, banning buildings from having lights on when there are no occupants.

This is actually often a(dumb, outdated, victim blamey) insurance requirement for "security" so that people won't want to break in because they could be seen from the street.

In an era of literally $7 brandless chinese nightvision security cameras, and DVR nightvision security systems costing only a couple hundred bucks at costco it seems SUPER silly though and needs to die.

Figured it was worth mentioning though, that it isn't just lazy people leaving lights on or done for appearance or stupid company policy or anything though. It's often required to leave a "ghostlight" or nightlight(s) on.

This needs to be changed the same way the whole "no electronics on flights" stuff does and did though.
posted by emptythought at 5:06 PM on March 12 [9 favorites]


"turn off your lights when you walk out of a room and you could save $500 a year on electric bills".

For the curious, numbers for calculating the cost of leaving your lightbulbs on 24/7 can be found here. I'm rabid about turning off lights when I'm not in the room, but that's more of a personal quirk than anything else; the impact on my budget is probably almost too small to measure.

what the hell is with the addiction metaphor? That seems to be a popular scolding tone used specifically when it comes to energy conservation, particularly addicted to oil imagery.

I agree. I think the "addiction" language comes off very puritanical, honestly, and obfuscates that excessive energy consumption has a lot to do with unpaid externalities, rather than a personal inability to control your desires. If gasoline and electricity prices included the full cost of global warming, say, I can guarantee we would all be using a lot less.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:07 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


The real lesson here is that people have no fucking idea how much energy costs. Like, not even to the nearest power of 10.

How weird would it be if this was a car thread and people were saying the new Honda Accord cost $100,000? And then some other poster says "no, a new Accord is like $2,000". And most people just threw up their hands because who knows which person was right?

The truth is pretty much none of you know the incremental energy costs of your daily habits. You can't even make an educated guess.
posted by ryanrs at 10:39 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


The above comment is not meant to pick on anyone in particular. I live in an unmetered apartment, so I have even less clue that the rest of you.
posted by ryanrs at 10:42 PM on March 12


The lightbulb cost or even amount of electricity consumed isn't the only cost to be factored in. Although the typical end user may not have to buy the lighting fixture, desk lamp, outlet, house wiring, service to the nearest power line, installation or maintenance by the licensed electrician, etc, those are costs that are handed down when you rent an apartment or buy a house. If you build a new house those are costs that can easily be broken down and still need to be factored into your costs for light. If you buy a lightbulb, that is only a small part of the cost of light.

If William D. Nordhaus did not calculate in those costs, his analysis is borked. Babylonians and colonials did not pay for any extra costs besides candles, oil, lamps, and matches.
posted by JJ86 at 8:42 AM on March 13


pretty much none of you know the incremental energy costs of your daily habits. You can't even make an educated guess.

My electric company has started doing this thing where they actually compare my house to the houses of neighbors and let me know how I'm doing in a keeping up with the Joneses sort of way. I had an electric co-op for my electric company before I moved and since the rates it paid for power were more directly affecting the rates I paid for power, we had more of a clue. I'm surprised how much just wanting to compete with my neighbors to use less power has made me more mindful of what sucks down power inside my home. The electric company even has little quizzes you can take about your lifestyle to help you figure out where to save. For me it was basically "Stop using a computer, get a newer fridge, move to a cave, eat raw food" and that was about it (have no dryer, no video games, no appliances except a coffee maker and a toaster). I read the blue light article and it sounds a little like woo. Can someone else who knows more about this than me maybe tell me if it's woo or not?

fl.ux makes me head feel weird. Anyone else?
posted by jessamyn at 10:43 AM on March 13


fl.ux makes me head feel weird. Anyone else?

During the transition phase, a little bit. But outside the point where it's actively changing, it's amazing to me. If I turn it off at night for some reason, everything seems way too bright and hurts my eyes until I activate it again (and wait for the transition to finish).
posted by inigo2 at 1:27 PM on March 13


The electric company even has little quizzes you can take about your lifestyle to help you figure out where to save.

Online quizzes? I'm actually pretty curious, myself. I knew I wasn't aware that much, but seeing other smart people who are also somewhat fuzzy makes me think I need more tools.
posted by corb at 1:32 PM on March 13


If you're a customer, yes. If you go to my electric company's website you can see the "Get started" button and it will guide you through the process. You have to sign in with your account info though, but it's a thing other electric companies may do also.
posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on March 13


fl.ux makes me head feel weird. Anyone else?

My office (home, self-employed) has a lot of windows but I live in the great northwestern rainforest so it is usually overcast light (which is around the modern monitor default of 6500k). My primary light at night is a 300w halogen torchère lamp that does a good job at keeping the room well-lit with indirect light bouncing off the walls/ceiling.

I’ve only been using f.lux for a few months but I could not stand the recommended settings (much too orange, photos obviously wrong, even after many hours of trying to neurologically adjust). Instead mine goes from 6500k daytime to 5000k at night, with a slow, one-hour transition between the two. With these settings I rarely notice the color shift.
posted by D.C. at 2:27 PM on March 13


I read the blue light article and it sounds a little like woo. Can someone else who knows more about this than me maybe tell me if it's woo or not?

fl.ux makes me head feel weird. Anyone else?


It strongly reeks of woo to me. Everything i've read supporting f.lux/redshift/etc doesn't link to any actual science, and radiates like homeopathy levels of woo. All that "ever notice how people have that eery blue glow?" type of appeal to emotion stuff just makes me roll my eyes.

That said, i do like it and it doesn't make my head feel weird, but i mainly like it because it gives me a second adjustment of the general light output of my monitors. Warm color temperatures can feel nicer late at night in a dark room(and bla bla bla, i know you're not supposed to use a screen in a totally pitch black room). I wish they didn't try and package it as some kind of health/sleep aid woo thing. I especially hate the "Woah, switch it off and check out the difference, that's what you were staring at!" kind of rhetoric. Yea, it's a rapid change that's noticeable. Of course you're going to go "Woah!". It strikes me as shady door to door vacuum salesman kinda stuff.

I also absolutely agree with the comments above that except on my phone, which always feels like it has an overly high color temperature, i hate the stock settings and crank it to a much milder shift.

what the hell is with the addiction metaphor? That seems to be a popular scolding tone used specifically when it comes to energy conservation, particularly addicted to oil imagery

Yea, it bugs me for the same reasons i was just talking about with the f.lux thing. It's a cheap-shot appeal to emotion and rub-the-puppies-nose-in-the-poop type shaming. It also reminds me a lot of the really intense animal rights + go veg* activists who say "your stomach is a graveyard" type of stuff.

I mean, before you even get in to the fact that it's disrespectful to actual addicts, as you said, it's just a really gross scummy tactic that to me signals some activists on the left being willing to use the shadiest tactics usually reserved for use by the right to promote regressive things.

I've seen it come up a lot lately with basically any consumable resource. America/the west is addicted to oil/gas/water/electricity/electronics/clothing/etc. Even ignoring the cheap-shot problems above, it's also starting to feel like a crappy buzzfeed linkbait sort of thing.
posted by emptythought at 2:55 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The Browser highlighted this article from the same issue:

Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark: In unseen worlds, science invariably crosses paths with fantasy.

I've always been partial to the author's blog for some reason.
posted by homunculus at 4:16 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]




Early Humans Made Animated Art - "How Paleolithic artists used fire to set the world’s oldest art in motion."
When Lascaux cave was discovered in 1940, more than 100 small stone lamps that once burned grease from rendered animal fat were found throughout its chambers. Unfortunately, no one recorded where the lamps had been placed in the cave. At the time, archeologists did not consider how the brightness and the location of lights altered how the paintings would have been viewed. In general, archeologists have paid considerably less attention to how the use of fire for light affected the development of our species, compared to the use of fire for warmth and cooking. But now in Lascaux and other caves across the region, that’s changing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:04 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


On-off cycles do not affect the life of incandescent [...] lights.

TommyD - That's actually not quite a true statement. When you turn on a tungsten filament bulb, there is a momentary magnetic torque applied to the filament as the current flows, in addition to rapid thermal expansion, which is why lightbulbs like that are so often observed to burn out when turned on. It's breaking at the weak spot where the filament has evaporated the most, which would have lasted hours longer if left on (or possibly forever, if dramatically under-loaded wrt rated wattage via a dimmer.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:17 AM on April 1




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