Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 20, 2019

Earth Concerns News

Switching into Sustainability by Sister Mary Lou Dolan, CSJ

Switching into Sustainability

The theme of this year’s HomeLand activities and articles continues to be bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet, just what we have been talking about in our preparations for our Provincial and General Chapters.

One specific example of how we as individuals and as Congregation can strengthen this kind of human presence involves ….electricity use.

Think of the ways we depend on electricity (your answers go here…). Our involvement in making use of this resource is simultaneously obvious, immediate, and future oriented.

In 2009 the US was the world’s primary consumer of electricity.[i]  In 2010, 25% of US electricity generation came from oil, 22% from coal, 22% from natural gas, 8.4% from nuclear power, and 8% from renewables, primarily hydropower[ii].

NYS, where most of us live, was the 8th largest energy consumer in the US in 2010, but we have some good things going for us. Our high use of mass transit enabled us to be the 2nd lowest per person energy consumer! And in 2011 NY was the highest producer of electricity from hydropower east of the Rockies (thank you Earth for Niagara!)

The sources of NY’s electrical power illustrate how we connect to our “environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence” on Earth. [iii]

In NY, about 43% of our electricity is produced from natural gas, connecting to fracking issues. Nuclear with its lists of economic , storage and health related concerns produces 26%. Next, hurrah, is hydropower at 19%, and then renewables at 7%, which hopefully will increase. Finally, coal with its connections to pollution, CO2 and mountain top removal produces 5%.

Most of these sources have huge environmental costs. We know that the “poor” bear economic, environmental, and health consequences of these costs most severely, a social justice issue. And since we use electricity also, we are implicated in generating the costs, costs to “the dear neighbor”, Earth’s systems and inhabitants; these are real and spiritual connections.

How can we respond? One way is “holding actions”[iv] like conservation and not using more lights than needed.

Incandescent lights should be turned off whenever they are not needed. Nearly all types of incandescent light bulbs are fairly inexpensive to produce and are relatively inefficient. Therefore, the value of the energy saved by not having them on will be far greater than the cost of having to replace the bulb. While halogens are more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, they use the same technology and are far less efficient than CFLs and LEDs. Therefore, it is best to turn these lights off whenever they are not needed.[v]

Compact fluorescent light bulbs use at least two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and they last up to 10 times longer. CFLs generate 70 percent less heat, so they are safer to operate and can also reduce energy costs associated with cooling homes and offices. The only real drawback to using compact fluorescent bulbs is that each one contains about 5 mg of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that can cause serious health problems if inhaled or ingested over a period of time or in large enough doses. A general rule-of-thumb is that if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, it is probably more cost effective to turn fluorescent lights off. They are more expensive to buy, and their operating life is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off, relative to incandescent lights.[vi]

LEDs use significantly less energy than even CFLs, and do not contain mercury. They are becoming economically competitive with CFLs while yielding superior quality lighting and energy bill savings down the line. They contain trace levels of several heavy metals so dispose of them properly. [vii]

It is quite simple to practice saving electricity. And we can also help through advocating for more sustainable energy initiatives. So, let you light shine…wisely!


[iii] Ibid.