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This Week’s Color of the Day

By E Kinnersley

Bulb bans are making their way through the discourse. Again.

Let’s set aside our lumens per watt hammer where anything that is not LED is a nail for a minute. Whatever we might think about fluorescents (compact and otherwise), incandescent, and halogen lamps and where our benchmarks for lumens per watt are; I have a proposal for one kind of lighting system we can all agree needs to go: Outdoor Decorative RGB Uplights. You know the ones; towers turning orange for the local sports team, bridges shifting color for this month’s awareness theme — obnoxious, glowing, wastes of electricity masquerading as support for the cause du jour. While all these multichromatic set-ups started as harmless yet incoherent gestures, we have certainly gone overboard and maybe a little berserk.

Electricity Use
In Manchester, England there is a monument to the city’s carbon reduction plan that spends all night washed in green light. Call me cynical but surely the height of irony is wasting electricity and creating light pollution to memorialize efforts to use less energy? Even in an LED world the best way to save energy is flipping switches but instead we are wasting energy and creating light pollution to show off our energy efficiency bona fides.

Buildings are Ugly
Steel-reinforced concrete and insulated glass have been great for making quick and affordable structures, but it does mean that most of the buildings we have are featureless slabs — or worse slabs with delusions of being made in the 5th century BCE and want to show off by slapping a bunch of columns to the front. It’s shameful enough that we have to stare at these in the day; must we show them off in glorious technicolor all night?

Bothering The Locals
I have never hugged a tree, and I feel guilty that I don’t feel much about whales going extinct. But when humans affect the environment for residence or for industry, I do think all interested parties do need to have a say in how we use space balancing the needs of people and wildlife. How does that conversation go for these lighting systems?

“We understand that this skyscraper is a federally recognized peregrine falcon reserve with a breeding pair in residence, but come on people, the Seahawks have a home game this weekend.”

“Sure, the insect population dropped by 3% that week, and we exposed a bunch of small fish to extra predation at night, but how else could we show our appreciation for the Fire Marshall’s retirement?”

The one-upmanship of tape light displays has gone past inane.

Nonsense Political Cleavage
Speaking of inane, let’s talk about the Florida Department of Transportation. Last June, as some local authorities decided to celebrate Pride month with rainbows on their bridges, a single DoT clerk pulled all of the lighting systems for code compliance. These bridges had been lit for years, with no question about whether these were up to code when the Jaguars made the playoffs or for Flag Day. And this isn’t isolated; The last weekend of February every edifice in the Western World went up in blue and gold for Ukraine solidarity, except one bridge in Duluth and now the mayor is stuck catching flack for not being on the right side of every single trending topic. It turns out that bridge can’t even change color but try having an excuse for anything anymore. Last summer, the Edmonton City Council spent months fighting a protracted PR policy, and legal battle with a group that has a position on a “medical procedure that is divisive” (I’m not saying which one. Nobody needs that going on in the comments section.) having their request for their flag’s colors over the North Saskatchewan River denied. Of course, nobody asked the fish what they thought.

Your tax dollars at work.

Not Enough Colors; or Awareness: A Rope of Sand
Fun fact about the Edmonton case: their flag runs the same colors as A Minoritized Community.  And that keeps happening.

Are we lighting up city hall purple for:

• Alzheimer’s?
• For epilepsy?
• Pancreatic cancer?
• Animal abuse?
• ADD and its hyperactive cousin, ADHD?
• Crohn’s Disease?
• Arnold Chiari Malformation?
• Anti-Violence?
• Fibromyalgia?
• GI Cancer?
• Chronic Pain?
• Colitis?
• Cystic Fibrosis?
• Homelessness?
• Leiomyosarcoma?
• Lupus?
• Mucolipidosis?
• Neuropathy Awareness?
• Macular Degeneration?
• Migraines?
• Domestic Violence?
• No Unattended Kids in Cars?
• Pancreatitis, but just the chronic kind?
• Sir Terry Pratchett’s Birthday (that one’s more of a lilac but #gnupterry anyhow)?
• Thyroid Cancer?
• Religious Tolerance?
• Mesh Survivor?
• Sarcoidosis?
• Sjogren’s Syndrome?
• Thymoma Cancer?
• Rett Syndrome?
• Victims of 9/11?
• The varsity girls volleyball team going to State?
• Is the Pope in town?

Those are real legit uses for the color purple that could be used anywhere. So, you can see that using colors on walls is a useful and clear means of communication. The goal of these exercises is to raise awareness, but the complete lack of an option to add context in these projectors erodes that. We’d be better off flying airplanes dragging banners that read, “The mayor’s office has said something supportive toward a cause that is in no way controversial. Visit mayorsoffice.gov for details.”

Just one more thing about this century that’s noise pretending to signal. Beyond the fact that the color is meaningless, it’s that the gesture tends to be the end of things. Everyone went blue for nurses these past years, but we didn’t see a lot of reform to healthcare to make nurses’ lives better; we just wear the ribbon, clap our hands, fire the unvaccinated, and move on. These walls and buildings, especially from government agencies who have power to act, is a poor salve for any of these problems. What does it say to the people who suffer from all these purple causes when all they get is a few nights of wall wash?

There are real problems for this industry and the people who regulate it; I’d like to see less mercury going where it doesn’t need to be, I’d like to see efficiency incentives that didn’t leave low-earners behind, but those are complicated. However, playing with the colors every night isn’t adding anything useful or beautiful to the world, so let’s just shut ‘em all down.


E Kinnersley has worked as an independent technology and policy commentator for the past years and has recently turned to work as a marketing consultant for the lighting and electrical industries.


Discussion (1 comments)

    Ryan Krueger March 10, 2022 / 1:37 pm

    This is a terrible take. The lighting industry has been selling dog shit led fixtures on trunnion mounts blinding people for a really long time. It’s not even just LED. How about that 1500w 65k HID bulb mounted 40ft in the air? You also fail to mention the 4 glare bombs above that metal object you dislike. Brutal article…

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