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Delegates lighting their way to Denver

Bulb donations to offset trip's carbon footprint

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / July 21, 2008

When Democratic delegates from Massachusetts set off for Denver next month to crown Senator Barack Obama as the party's presidential nominee, they will be leaving a big trail of greenhouse gases from all that airline travel, rental cars, and convention lighting.

Hauling 121 delegates and their baggage from Logan to Denver, and back, would burn about 6,619 gallons of jet fuel and spew 64 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

That's not such a great statistic for the party of Al Gore, the crusader against global warming, who last week made a call for the nation to produce all its electricity through environmentally friendly sources by 2018.

So Massachusetts Democrats, following a national Democratic Party directive, are working to offset their convention-related carbon footprints. And their method goes one step beyond the national party's entreaty to go to a website that allows people to buy so-called carbon offsets for $12.

While the national party's plan helps support renewable energy projects across the country, the Massachusetts party's plan has a direct, local impact.

Under the state party's plan, all 121 Massachusetts delegates are asked to pay $15 to LiveCooler, a local nonprofit. Each donation buys about six compact fluorescent light bulbs, which will be installed in a low-income community specified by each delegate. By replacing six standard light bulbs with the energy-efficient ones, it is estimated that each delegate will prevent the emission of nearly 1 ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more than offsetting the effect of their convention trip.

"Our goal is to make Massachusetts the greenest delegation at the convention," said Michael P. Ross, a Boston city councilor who conceived of the light-bulb exchange. "It's so easy and it so quickly affects the bottom line in terms of carbon production."

Stacey Monahan, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said she is hoping to get all the state's delegates to participate.

Ross led a contingent of Democrats who installed compact fluorescent light bulbs last week in homes at Mission Main, an affordable housing development in Mission Hill in Boston.

LiveCooler, the local nonprofit that created the program for Massachusetts delegates, estimates that the energy-efficient bulbs will save Mission Main families $300 each on their energy bills over five years, while preventing the emission of 1,998 pounds of carbon dioxide per household.

"Even if it saves them only a few dollars, the energy savings coupled with the environmental savings are great," said Detra McGovern, office manager for Mission Main.

Every delegate who flies round trip from Boston to Denver is responsible for emitting about 1,068 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to carbon footprint calculators on the Internet. So far, the LiveCooler site has received donations equaling more than 23 tons of carbon dioxide, still far less than half of what the delegates will be responsible for in jet travel alone.

While each delegate is asked to make a personal contribution, the livecooler.org website allows other individuals to purchase light bulbs on a specific delegate's behalf.

Massachusetts has a reputation to uphold when it comes to trying to put an ecofriendly face on a political convention.

Organizers of the 2004 Democratic convention, held in Boston, boasted they made it green by rolling out hybrid buses to ferry delegates around, recycling tons of paper and boxes, and installing a huge fuel cell to power journalists' computers and equipment. Dan Ruben, executive director of Boston Green Tourism and the driving force behind the Boston convention's green efforts, helped the state party develop the light bulb idea.

"Carbon offsets often seem a little arcane," he said. "You spend your money and you're not exactly sure what you're getting. In this case it's very tangible. Putting light bulbs into the homes of low-income people - it's easy for people to understand, and it has a side benefit in that it helps low-income people reduce their energy bills."

Bay Staters are hoping for special recognition on the convention floor in Denver for using innovative ways to make energy efficiency real to the masses. "We're a little competitive," Monahan said.

But they're also a little behind.

According to the Democratic National Convention Committee's website, four state delegations - California, Oregon, Nevada, and Vermont - have already achieved 100 percent compliance with the national effort.

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

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