The Trials and Tribulations of Changing a Lightbulb: Environmental Consciousness and Direct Action.

How many people does it take to change a lightbulb? Well in Jakarta at least, it seems a fair few. Through this catalyst project, I sought to improve the energy efficiency of my apartment building. One of the best ways to do this is to literally change the lightbulbs in our buildings.



T H E   J O U R N E Y


So how hard could it be?  To start off, I will show the journey that I had to take to see just how difficult it was to change a lightbulb in an apartment building.

I had a simple plan in mind:

  1. Ask the apartment management for the energy audit and see how much of our electricity usage came from our lighting.
  2. Use the audit data to see what wattage CFC lightbulbs are currently used and how many hours the lights are kept on.
  3. Find the equivalent light output from a LED bulb.
  4. Calculate the difference in energy usage from the currently used bulbs and the equivalently bright LED bulb.
  5. Calculate the saving in electricity, c02 emissions and cost through switching bulbs.
  6. Present my findings to apartment management and pitch changing our bulbs for the obvious environmental and cost saving benefits.

A simple enough plan. However, the bureaucracy of apartment management cannot be underestimated, and I had not received any information of the energy audit after 3 weeks of requests. So I had to change the plans, just slightly though, to compensate for my lack of data.

My new plan looked like this:

  1. Count how many lightbulbs there were in our apartment.
  2. Climb up the light fixtures to check the model and wattage of the light bulb.
  3. Estimate how long the lights are turned on by spending a sleepless night checking if the lights are still on until dawn.
  4. Find the equivalent light output from a LED bulb.
  5. Calculate the difference in energy usage from the currently used bulbs and the equivalently bright LED bulb.
  6. Calculate the saving in electricity, c02 emissions and cost through switching bulbs.
  7. Present my findings to apartment management and pitch changing our bulbs for the obvious environmental and cost saving benefits.

Simple enough, still, even if it took much exercise. Though I must admit that the number and model of the light bulbs will not be 100% precise as I could have missed a bulb in my count and certain light fixtures may have used different wattage bulbs, though from my observations climbing up and peering into over 20 light fixtures they did seem to be all the same model.

After this, I plugged my estimate data into a spreadsheet and calculated how much energy, energy and c02 emission we would save. I found that my electricity costs were 1,467 rupiahs per kilowatt hours (Tempo) and that the average C02 emission of a coal-fired power plant was 0.909 KG of C02 per Kilowatt Hour of electricity produced (Clayton). Additionally, I found that the equivalent light bulb to the 18 watt CFL lightbulbs that my apartment building used was a 10 watt LED light bulb (Viribright), which should already give some indication of just how enormous the energy savings would be.


Selfie climbing up a lamp pole to check bulb model. Trying to take a selfie while climbing a pole is very difficult.


The dreaded apartment management office


I found that the lights were turned on for 11 hours a day, from 6 pm to 5 am and that there were 150 lightbulbs in the apartment building floors and the emergency stairs. I then plugged everything into my spreadsheet to produce my results.



T H E   R E S U L T S:



After I made these estimates, I went down to the office and requested a meeting with the building manager. Cameras were not allowed so I could not record my meeting, but the meeting was very short and to the point. I presented my findings and showed the cost benefits and environmental benefits of changing our lightbulbs, then asked if this change could be implemented to improve our energy efficiency. I was met with a very prompt “thank you for your effort” and was asked to leave the office. So nothing was accomplished in my meeting.



T A K I N G   A C T I O N:


After that experience, I decided to move on and try and drum up support for my proposal. I dropped a petition into everyone’s mailbox in my apartment that looked like this:



This was done fairly recently and I haven’t received any updates by apartment management or any of the residents of my apartment. But I have plans if there is large support for my proposal by the other residents. There are two ways this can turn one. First, if all goes well then apartment management changes the lights and the problem is solved.

However, if apartment management fails to adhere to our request then we will have to either give up or take direct action to solve this. Now, I do not plan on giving up so I have thought up a couple ways to take direct action and push for change in a productive manner. I was inspired by the actions of Mahatma Gandhi, who I must admit did take up a much larger cause. But the lessons from his path of nonviolent civil resistance has valuable ideas and lessons to learn that we can apply to smaller campaigns like this. The lessons that I learned from him, I applied to my local contexts in my other personal projects.

For instance, while working on my projects for Engineering: Off Grid, where we raised funds to place solar panel kits in energy-poor communities, we encountered several administrative problems with local village heads that were reluctant to allow solar panel kits to be placed in their communities. However, after drumming up support by interacting with some of the people in the village and explaining to them our plans, we had created a strong group of people within the village that advocated for the projects. Through our small campaign strategy, we were able to promote a much larger change within the village and help make the livelihoods of the people much better.

To get a slight clue of what we can do, I highly suggest watching the Gandhi movie that was released in 1982. Here are a couple clips that highlights his ideas for promoting change:



He advocated for a few things that I have summed up in this guide:


A link to download so you can print and distribute the guide:

I plan on taking action if we don’t get a good response. I’ve already started the mass petitions, and to move on I plan on organizing group lobbyings, further deputations and more ways to pressure our apartment management. Hopefully, this brings the positive change that we desire.



A   W I D E R   P E R S P E C T I V E:


Looking at the world around us we can clearly see that though environmental consciousness is rising, it has not yet risen to a point where we can make large strides to combat climate change. For instance, a survey of over 1000 self-identified conservatives done by Yale and George Mason University showed that, though the number of US conservatives that believe in climate change increased by 19% from 2014, this still resulted in only 47% of that believed climate change is real (Lehmann)

The world needs action, fast. The institutions we interact with, the places we live, study and work, all have enormous potential for change. Now as I showed through this catalyst project, instituting change may be difficult, especially in places where environmental consciousness is low. Jakarta is a megacity with over 10.3 million people, and as a whole environmental consciousness is largely a non-issue. Our government refuses to provide subsidies towards renewable energy (Hermansyah), while coal, for instance, received $31 billion in public assistance from the Indonesian Government and other international finance institutions since 2006 (OCI).

In these cases, institutional change can come only from direct action and public pressure. I hope that this catalyst project provides us, the public, a slight idea on how to enact real change in the institutions around us. Whether it be your school or apartment or office, raising environmental consciousness and taking action for environmental sustainability is something that is integral in the fight against climate change.

When considering your own campaign for change, review the guide and use it as a platform to build your plan. It’s been tried and tested by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and other great revolutionaries, so by applying these philosophical values we too can enact change. Print out the guide and distribute it among your friends and coworkers, discuss new ideas and see what works best for you.

In the comments section below, please post your experience with enacting change in your community and please do provide any further ideas for direct action that can help those of us who want to start making a difference, no matter how small. 

Thank you for reading!


Clayton, Jack. “1 Kilowatt-hour.” 1 Kilowatt-hour · BlueSkyModel. Accessed April 26, 2017. 

Gandhi. Directed by Richard Attenborough. United States: Columbia Pictures, 1982. 

Hermansyah, Anton. “Government to Propose Tax Cut for Renewable Energy.” The Jakarta Post. November 30, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Lehmann, Evan. “Many More Republicans Now Believe in Climate Change.” Scientific American. April 27, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.

OCI. “Indonesia: Public Finance/Subsidies for Coal.” Indonesia: Public Finance/Subsidies for Coal, February 2014. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Tempo. “PLN Increases Electricity Tariff.” Tempo English. January 2, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.

Viribright. “Comparing LED vs CFL vs Incandescent Light Bulbs.” April 5, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2017.
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