The Festival of Renewable Lights

Snowy menorah
A snowy menorah (Flickr/ Dominic Alves)
Every year Hanukkah brings the same questions:

1) How do you spell that? (the one I’m using is apparently preferred by the Library of Congress. Thanks LoC!)
2) When is that again?

Funnily enough, I can’t recall anyone ever asking me what Hanukkah is actually about. Hanukkah may fall during the most commercial time of year, but attempts to commercialize the holiday generally fail, because it’s really a heartwarming tale of renewable energy.

In case you missed last year’s lesson from the Maccabeats, Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights. But not the kind you untangle for days.

Super brief refresher: After overcoming tyranny and oppression, the Maccabean Jews went to light the Menorah in the Temple, a symbol of knowledge and life. There was only enough oil to last for one day, but the flames flickered on for eight nights. Some people say, “Miracle!”

I say, energy efficiency!

The holiday season tends to spur increased travel, multiple trips to shopping malls, endless rolls of wrapping paper, climbing thermostats, skyrocketing electricity bills and off-the-charts carbon footprints. Now, I’m not trying to be a Scrooge. But wouldn’t it be miraculous if this holiday season we could all make the energy we use in a day last until New Years?

In the spirit of the 8 day celebration here are:

8 Ways to Create Your Own Energy Efficiency Miracle

1. Staycation! You can save some serious cash and energy by foregoing planes, trains, and automobiles and exploring the wonders of your own humble metropolis. Remember all those things you always want to do but never have time for? Choose your own nearby adventure!

Lightbulb Vase, credit Thomas Mies
2. If lights are a part of your tradition, why not go solar? Running off energy from the sun, they’ll keep your energy costs and electricity usage down. They automatically turn on at dusk and off during the day. Added benefit? No electrical outlet needed = no tangled extension cords.

3. You know you’ve been meaning to. Replace all your incandescent lightbulbs with more efficient CFLs. Use your old lightbulbs for DIY decorations and gifts like these:

4. Give the gift of fuel efficient vehicles, like the Chevy Volt. Better yet, join your local car sharing service, like Zipcar.

5. Fight Vampire draw, and I don’t mean by seeing Twilight, again. DOE says vampire draw, or leaking electricity, costs Americans ~3 billion a year extra on power bills. How much are your energy-thirsty plasmas costing you while you aren’t even using them? Give your home a good old fashioned energy audit, and then invest in power strips that you can plug into and switch off, and up your insulation around leaky windows and water heaters.

6. Be mindful in your shopping. Buying local supports your hometown and saves on excess packaging and shipping emissions. Plan ahead to prevent multiple trips to the mall or grocery store and save yourself endless parking lot circling. Or consider charitable donations or symbolic animal adoptions, which can often mean more to people than another scarf.

7. Wrap recycle! I like to use old calendar and magazine pages to wrap my holiday gifts. It’s just as creative and pretty, cleans out your room, and saves you the trouble of debating what % recycled content paper to buy.

8. Plant trees in honor of your loved ones, instead of driving to the store to buy stuff. Not only is it a thoughtful gesture but trees filter air pollution, curb greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, provide shade, you get it. Trees rock. Plus if you cut one down, it’s only good sense and a Green Mitzvah to put one back in.

A festival of the Northern Lights, credit: Jim Trodel
We all know that becoming more energy efficient in our daily lives and supporting renewable energy sources rather than remaining dependent on dirty fossil fuels is critical for the health and well being of our wildlife, our families, and our planet. These measures can help us protect our iconic landscapes such as the Arctic Wildlife Refugeand the Gulf Coast from exploratory drilling, and the animals that live there.

With the coming New Year, the scent of a fresh start is in the air, along with frying latkes and pine needles. No matter what you celebrate, let this season inspire us to lead the way to a more energy efficient and sustainable world.