Lights

In a New York Times article, “Turning Off the Lights Does Save Electricity”, published February 3, 1974, the advice was to turn off your lights when not in use.

Turn off lights when not needed. If all three million customers in New York City and Westchester County cut off a single 100‐watt bulb that might burn six hours a day, the savings would be 1.5 million barrels of oil a year, 10 days’ supply.

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This advice was consistent with my parent’s insistence at the time. Their words “turn off the lights” continue to ring in my ears to this day. While saving money might have been part of their reasoning, they were both children of the depression, when reducing waste was instilled in their routine. So when I visit my daughter and son-in-law’s house, I walk around turning off their lights. They obviously don’t share the same concerns.

However, with the use of LED lighting, that advice has changed. In the September 21, 2022 article “You Can Stop Turning Your Lights Off to Save Money” Jason Fitzpatrick calculates as “LED lights use a small fraction of the energy traditional incandescent bulbs” the saving are negligible. In other words, it is unnecessary to turn off lights for cost-savings purposes.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons to turn off lights, such as: to signal support for some cause, such as Earth Day, or some group fighting for freedom; to help migrating birds; to hide, such as residents of Kyiv or passenger ships travelling off the coast of Somalia; or simply to sleep. I don’t recall these reasons being expressed in the 1970s.

So when I turn off the lights I am exposing a past context that my children are unfamiliar with. I have explained, but those reasons do not fit with today’s reality. It simply points to the difficulty in trying to apply historical principles in today’s environment, or conversely, trying to understand historical practices within today’s frame of reference.


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