Smackdown meet-up

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A couple of dozen participants in the Energy Smackdown gathered for pizza, veggies, soda, and celebration last night at the Regent Theatre in Arlington to cap off the energy-saving competition's second season.

About 30 families from Arlington, Medford, and Cambridge vied for team and individual honors in the yearlong effort, whose larger purpose was to explore, experience, and model strategies for reducing humankind's impact on the planet.

Arlington won the team competition quite impressively, falling just short of beating the other two teams' combined score. That outcome was mirrored in the episode of a planned 7-installment TV series about the competition that was debuted during the evening. It chronicled a  light bulb exchange derby, one of several special challenges during the year. On one cold and frenetic morning, competitors got friends and neighbors to change out 888 incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents. Arlington players scored 486 of them, 55 percent.

The 20-minute show was reality TV in a truer sense than any network dreck, considering that greenhouse-gas reduction is far more real than who can eat a cupful of worms or not get voted off an island. And, it was funny and kinda fun. I will definitely look at the other episodes, when they're posted at the end of the summer. Kelley said had said previously that episodes will be available on the web and will be shown on local-access cable.

The organizers, the BrainShift Foundation, also gave out individual awards in several categories:

  • National Grid funded a reduction in heating fuel prize. The average contestant reduced 17 percent, but the winners, the Koenig family of Arlington, reduced its use 66 percent.
  • NStar gave an electricity reduction prize. The average contestant reduce 14 percent, but the winners, the Lamonicas of Arlington, cut their electricity 73 percent! Martin Lamonica said solar panels and power strips were two key contributors.
  • Sue Coakley from Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships gave awards for carbon footprint reductions. She said the average annual use among Smackdown participants at the beginning was 14,000 pounds, and was down to 11,000 by the end of the year. The winning Roof family, of Cambridge, started out at 8,600 pounds per person, and ended at 4,000, employing "a little bit of everything," including composting, using CFLs, and cycling every day.

For context, Coakley said that carbon neutrality would require 4,500 pounds per person, the world average is 8,000 pounds per person, and the US average is 18,880. So the participants, certainly far more committed than the average American, started below average, reduced further, and still ended up well above the world average and quite far from carbon neutrality. Pretty sobering.

  • The "carbon crusher" award, which looked at the same goal but measured by percentage, also went to the Roof family, whose reduction was 54 percent. That compares to the oft-stated societal goal of reducing carbon dioxide output by 80 percent by 2050.

Before the awards, and before the video, the bubbly MC of the event asked for shout-outs and shows of hands on several questions:


  • Was it tough? Most people said it was easier than they thought. Composting seemed to have been universally practiced. Additionally, one child offered that it was hard to get used to turning off all the lights, but when asked if his mom had had to nag him, he replied, "no, I had to nag her."
  • What were the struggles? Record-keeping, to document the changes, seemed onerous for all. (Later, foundation executive director Donald Kelley said that was a lesson learned, and in next year's competition, they intend to have a lower-impact participant level.) Others cited changing how they ate (animal protein has a far greater planet impact than plants), and cutting down on air miles. The fellow who shared that said it meant that when his Euro-born wife went home this year, she went alone.
  • What were the surprises? The Cantabridgian who won the overall carbon reduction prize said that he hadn't expected to be in the best shape of his life, which he achieved by cycling on all but six days. Someone else expressed surprise that LED Christmas lights make great front stoop illumination, for 3 watts of power.

Kelley was quite noncommital about season 3, which is to begin in the fall, but he said they do expect even more competitors. I happened to sit next to Martie, a woman from the Weston climate action group who declined to give her last name, and she said they're already planning a 20-family competition in their town, not necessarily to be affiliated with the Smackdown.





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