Before you string your holiday lights this weekend - read on.

In the mid 1970's during the energy crisis, many families and communities decided to give up lighting their homes and trees for the holidays.  Homes in my neighborhood didn't turn on their outdoor holiday lights again for many years, even after the crisis had passed.

Well, here we go again.  This time it's a climate crisis, caused to some extent, by an ever-growing reliance on carbon-based fuels.  And guess what powers most holiday displays – yep, mostly green-house-gas-creating-carbon-based-coal-fired power plants.

Maybe it's our fear of dampening any holiday spending during the other current crisis - economic crisis - but I haven't yet heard communities, governments or environmentalists suggest that we stop our holiday lighting plans this year.

Are we fiddling (or lighting) while Rome burns? 

I will admit that it is difficult to do away with cheerful holiday lights all together when it is the coldest and darkest part of the season.  The good news is that unlike in the 1970's, there are some new lighting technologies that can substantially reduce your holiday lighting carbon footprint.  Here's how:

  •  LED Holiday lights use just a fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent lights. According to Consumer Reports, a typical homeowner spends approximately $11 in energy with a 50 feet strand of incandescent lights for 300 hours, while the same use of LED lights costs less than 15 cents. The other benefit to LED lights is that they often last as much as ten times longer than traditional lights which means replacing the strand less often saving the carbon footprint of manufacturing and shipping. LED lights also burn cooler they are safer to use and reduce the risk of fire when used inside.
  • Solar-powered LED holiday lights are even a bigger carbon footprint coup.   You can set up a light display wherever you please without a tangle of extension cords and best is that your operating carbon footprint is zero because you are "off the grid".   You can even buy solar wreaths. You'll pay a little more up front for solar versions of holiday lights, but the annual operating savings should more than make up for the extra cost.  You can find them at Solar Santa.
  • Trade in or recycle broken or unused holiday lights at participating Snyder Drug Stores through January 3rd, 2010. As a thank-you, donators receive a $5 coupon good towards a $20 Snyder Drug Store purchase.  The old light strings are kept out of the landfill and the copper and other materials recycled into new products. It is a good way to rid yourself of the tangled mess of old lights in your attic.  Click here for a list of participating stores.
  • Further maximize holiday lighting savings with timers. Limit light displays to no more than six evening hours daily. Leaving lights on 24 hours can needlessly quadruple your holiday lighting energy costs—and create four times the pollution.
  • Use fewer lights in your displays.  Instead, concentrate on effective and creative lighting as they do on a theater set.    
  • Buy renewable energy from your electricity provider.  If you are an Xcel Energy customer, sign up for the Windsource program, a way to purchase clean wind-generated electricity for a small additional monthly charge. 

I don't want to go back to the dark mid 70's, that's for sure.  But I would like to see our communities, media and governments encouraging creative green lighting displays rather than the traditional lighted yardscape on carbon steroids.   Perhaps this could be done through contests and highlighting homes with the "best low impact holiday display".   And in this day of Skype and 24/7 webcams maybe viewers could be encouraged to gather around the computer in their jammies and take a tour via webcam rather than hopping in the car to see the lights.  

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