How green is your lifestyle?

  • Published
  • By CDR Kory Fierstine
  • 33rd Flying Training Squadron commander
If you pay any attention to the popular press, you are aware of the controversy over carbon dioxide and its effect on "global warming." For those of you with your heads firmly buried in the sand, or if you are confused by all the scientific mumbo jumbo, the premise is simple (sort of): humans and the technology we covet (such as cars, lights, Nintendo and rock and roll music) are responsible for a sharp increase in "greenhouse gas," specifically carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Somehow, this increase either absorbs or reflects too much radiation and prevents the earth from cooling (or maybe it heats it too much, or... uhhhh... prevents the sun's radiation from escaping?); Hmmm... well that's clear as mud!

While I'm not tree-hugger (not that I have anything against showing a little affection to the occasional oak or sycamore), I'm also not a big fan of the Oklahoma July peak heat. I can't imagine how far my quality-of-life will plummet if it gets much warmer. So, assuming there is some truth to the theory that my listening to Brittany Spears too much, too often, is causing this awful turn of events, I asked myself what I could do to turn Enid back into the Arctic wilderness it was just a few years ago. As just one person, my options are limited. 1) I can replace my 2003 Expedition (with 5.4 liter Triton V8 and towing axle capable of towing well over 9000 pounds; yeah baby!) and/or 2) I can replace all the incandescent "normal" lights in my house with those compact fluorescent deals that are now flooding the aisles of our friendly neighborhood big box stores.

Of course, I'm no saint either. Call me a conservative, egomaniacal narcissist, but any move I make towards a "greener" lifestyle has to breach my personal cost-benefit threshold or it's a dead issue from the word go. So, I did a few calculations to see if it was financially worth my while to trade in my huge SUV for one of those gas sipping hybrids. Not so surprising, I discovered I'd save some serious cash to the tune of nearly $2000 a year in fuel savings alone! But, for the rest of you does it make since? If you are thinking about buying a new car and are on the fence as to whether to get a hybrid or a similar pure gas variant, I ran the numbers on those too.

What I learned is that because hybrids cost on average $4 or $5,000 more than a comparable vehicle that does not use hybrid technology, the fuel savings over time are offset by the big up-front hybrid premium. For, say a Honda Accord, based on similar assumptions, over five years you will pay a little over $44,000 in gas and loan payments for the gas version and nearly $47,000 for the hybrid. Of course, at the 10 year mark it's almost a wash. For those thinking about a Ford Escape, the five year costs are $41,000 for the gas version and $46,000 for the hybrid. Again, at 10 years, the two costs converge.

OK, so replacing cars to save gas money is arguable, what about changing out all my short life, heat producing, inefficient incandescent lights with those fluorescent jobbies that last seven years and use next to nothing in electricity (according to the TV ads)? Well, using my house as a "model," I did a little more "ciphering" and came up some rough costs. While not a "McMansion" by any stretch, I own a newer home with more recessed flood lights than should be legally allowed. And, no mater how hard I try to get my wife and kids to turn the stinkin' lights off when they leave the room, I "donate" to the power company approximately $600 per year in lighting costs alone. If I were to replace all lights with CFLs, I would lower my electrical bill approx. $450 per year! But wait, those CFLs aren't free. I have 70 lights in my house to change out. To change them all would cost me over $300 up front. Still, if my calculations are correct, CFLs would pay for themselves before the first year is out and keep paying me back as long as they last. Over seven years that puts 2,850 bucks in my pocket! Wow! Of course there are some downsides to CFLs. There is a bit of mercury in them necessitating special disposal requirements, and from my experience, they aren't as bright as they claim to be and are subject to overheating and early burn out in recessed ceiling fixtures (darn!).

Now, you may ask, "Yo! What about the whole global warming thing?!" Well, economists talk about public economic benefits such as cleaner air and the effect a large scale shift in the population's use of ecologically friendly technologies, but, these are impossible to accurately quantify since different individuals value these things differently. I know what I value, but what about you? Maybe you have beach front property, maybe you have asthma, and maybe you prefer to drive your Hummer from your front yard to your backyard to save on shoe wear. The question is yours to answer: Do you think hybrids and CFLs will lead to cleaner air and cooler summers, and is that important to you?

For what it's worth, according to, water vapor has the same mysterious effect on climate change as CO2 although no one is talking about limiting the boiling of water. That's for next time!