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Friday, August 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 81.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Madison Lights Out aims to dim carbon burden of the holidays


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When the light bulb of inspiration lit up over Jennifer Sather's head in October, she switched it back off. Inspired by the presidential campaign, the sales executive for LivePerson, Inc. decided to "make an effort to make some change." What she conceived is now taking shape as Madison Lights Out, an effort to convince people to turn off unnecessary lights and idling electronic devices throughout December and again next July.

That is the fundamental thrust of the campaign, but Sather hopes to induce a more profound shift toward what she calls "mindful behavior -- how we can start, very simply, thinking about how we impact the earth," and adjust routine daily actions to reduce that impact.

Launched online via various social networks, the Madison Lights Out Project has grown to include partnerships with Sustain Dane, Seventh Generation Energy, the Willy Street Co-op, Renew Wisconsin and the City of Madison's Mpowering initiative. As the project gathers momentum, Sather hopes to see it become "a behavioral sustainability effort."

Convincing people to take simple steps to reduce their contribution to carbon emissions may strike an observer as a small increment next to a big problem, allows Sather. As the nascent initiative gathers momentum, she and others are still trying to figure out how to measure the project's impact.

"Since the program is based on awareness," she observes, "it's a little nebulous." Still, the Madison Lights Out Project's viral potential is undeniable. One way to measure its impact will be sales of yard signs. At $4 each, they're available at Capitol Centre Market, Cargo Coffee, Ground Zero, Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, Off the Grid and the Willy Street Co-op. Window signs for homes, businesses and cars are also provided online by the campaign.

Sather notes that this month's rollout for the Madison Light Out Project was a conscious choice. There are few better months to campaign for a reduction in careless light use than December, which is one of the most overlit months of the year.

"None of us want to be the Christmas light cops," she says. "But there are a lot of alternatives, like LED lights." While LED lights do not entirely darken the problem of unnecessary light use, they can dim the carbon burden of the holidays. Sacrificing lighted holiday traditions, she suggests, might spur the creation of new practices such as more elaborate but unlit door decorations, or the revival of traditions such as decorating trees with strings of popcorn.

And there is this: Any perceptible reduction in light pollution contributes to darker skies with brighter stars -- including the shooting stars of the Geminid meteor showers scheduled to peak December 13. Depending on cloud cover, and with a full moon already lighting the sky that night, the rate at which people participate in the Madison Lights Out Project could mean the difference between seeing any of the brighter Geminids -- or none at all.

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