Rule of Thumb #1 - How Much Coal

We hear some big numbers: millions of tons, thousands of pounds, etc. Sometimes it's nice to have some rules of thumb to help us get a handle on the environmental impact of our actions. Here's a simple one:
A typical incandescent light bulb will burn its wattage in pounds of coal over its lifetime.

(Accompanying pollution rule of thumb: 1 pound of coal = 1.25 pounds of CO2)


- a single 40-watt bulb will burn 40 pounds of coal and produce 50 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 60-watt bulb will burn 60 pounds of coal and produce 75 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 75-watt bulb will burn 75 pounds of coal and produce about 94 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 100-watt bulb will burn 100 pounds of coal and produce 125 pounds of greenhouse gasesPile_2
Imagine the next time you buy a 4-pack of 60-watt bulbs that you also had to schlep home the 240 pounds of coal that will be burned to keep those lights on!

So, as John Morrill has encouraged us previously on this blog, reducing that impact is pretty simple and pretty inexpensive (it's actually better than free--since savings are much larger than costs). Upgrade your lighting from 150-year old incandescent technology to 20th century CFLs.

(The fine print - Rule of thumb assumes your electricity is coming from coal-powered plants. In reality, somewhat more than 1/2 of all electricity is generated by burning coal, and it's different depending on where you live, what time of day and year it is, etc. The point of this rule of thumb is to show the immense amount of fossil fuels required to power our lives.)

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