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The march of progress?

*[Meet Erin, one of the geniuses on our carbon team, and a devoted, if occasionally frustrated conservationist. This post is the first in an occasional series highlighting her triumphs and trials as a green consumer and homeowner.]*

I don’t buy new things very often. I’m cheap to a fault and a serial procrastinator. However, I replace things that break with uncommon speed, using the purchase as an excuse to modernize my possessions. I try to upgrade with the planet in mind. But as my son would say, this effort is a work in process.

Take, for example, the television. We have a second television in the back room where my son does homework and watches Mythbusters (never at the same time, of course). A few weeks ago that TV decided it preferred an impressionist picture style over today’s uncompromising realism, and began producing jittery images. Though my son likes Monet as much as the next 15-year-old, it was time to replace the TV.

At first, I was optimistic that I could make an environmentally responsible choice while indulging in a bit of decadence: trading my 21-inch cathode ray tube for a comparably-sized high-definition LCD flat panel had to be an environmental win; they use LCDs on laptops, they’ve got to be efficient.

But then I got out a tape measure. You see, comparably sized is tricky with new TVs. My 21″ diagonal CRT screen is about 13″ tall. The closest match among flat panels is a 26″ model, measuring 24″ wide and 14.5″ tall — a 30% increase in total viewing area. Worse, 26″ TVs are for chumps in the HDTV space. You can find a few, but they don’t have great contrast ratios or input variety, and they look so small in the store. So at the urging of my shopping partner (the aforementioned 15-year-old), I upgraded to a 32″ model. Energy Star-rated, of course.

After a few ecstatic weeks where we marveled at all the pores on people’s faces, I started to wonder about my efficiency assumption. Was it my excitement keeping me warm or was that screen giving off quite a bit of heat? With a tinge of anxiety, I plugged it into my Kill-a-Watt. The verdict: about 115 watts. That didn’t seem too bad. Then I spotted the old TV sitting in the corner. I plugged it in: 53 watts. Dang.

The LCD is a great TV of course, beautiful and all. But suffice it to say I won’t be replacing the living room TV any time soon.

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