OK, I'll bite
I do this stuff for a living, after all.
Here's some data re the "New Yorkers are great" versus the "New Yorker's suck" thread, from the US DOE. The original poster was talking about turning off lights, which is an energy argument. I'll stick to that, and refrain from expanding the story to recycling etc.
Per capita energy usage (including all forms, electricity, natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, hydro, for all purposes) of the average person living in the state of NY is 217 MBTU. NY is second lowest of all 50 states. Only Rhode Island, at 213 MBTU is lower. California, my home state, which has had flat energy consumption for 15 years now, is 3rd lowest, at 232.3 MBTU. Oregon is 12th lowest, at 301.8 MBTU, Portland's recycling not withstanding. The national average is 339.2, the worst offender is Alaska, 1193.9 MBTU.
There's a mountain of other stats, of course, and you can pick these apart anyway you want (for example, colder states like Alaska will always use more energy for heating, etc.) but I picked this one cause it says in the big big picture, New York is doing OK, as far as per capita energy consumption. This has a lot to do with the average New Yorker's living situation: i.e. in denser population areas, which is much more energy efficient. In general, low population density states will have much higher per capita energy consumption that higher density states. This is a first order effect.
As for light bulbs, and the "should we care" versus "extreme oversimplification," pdxguy's story is a good one. In a large building, with lots of lights, it can make a big difference. Not as much as moving everyone from low-density into hi-density areas (which is actually happening, world-wide, just not here in the US), but as mentioned earlier one is much easier than the other to implement!
As for the average US residence, not a shopping mall or skyscraper, however, just how important is lighting?
The last really detailed DOE survey of US residential electricity use (2001) showed lighting (indoor and outdoor) at 8.8% of residential consumption. Is that significant? Turns out that lighting is beat by the following four categories: biggest is aircon at 16%, the fridge at 14%, heating 10%, and water heating at 9%. Lighting comes next at 8.8, followed by clothes dryer at 5.8. Every other category is 3.5% or less of total consumption (assuming you're not an outlier data point and do a lot of arc welding in your basement).
So, what does this say? For the average homeowner, your biggest bang for the buck in reducing energy consumption is first address aircon, heating (air and water), and your fridge. When those are the best they can be, then you should tackle lighting. After lighting, the clothes dryer is the only remaining significant factor, and all the rest are small components that have limited impact, except if you address them all, which is quite difficult for most folks. So yes, lighting efficiency is important, but its RELATIVE importance is context dependent, so we shouldn't get too bent out of shape looking at specific examples here and there and drawing general conclusions from them, cause we need the data about the total energy use, the costs of addressing those uses, and where lighting fits in that overall picture in order to see how much attention it deserves.
OK, whew. I've gotten all teachy here, and have bored everyone silly. I'll get one more thing in tho, since I've droned on so long already...
Terry seems to be saying two things.
1) This stuff is complex and we're oversimplifying things. I certainly agree it's complex. The length of my post shows that we shouldn't be painted as oversimplifying things without a much longer conversation with all of us about what lies behind our reasoning. It's not clear a forum on realjock.com is going to be the ideal place for you to prove we are oversimplifying nor for us to prove we aren't, but I've tried with this post
2) That some of the posters' positions are mostly about feeling "righteous." To use Terry's own words, I also think that statement is a bit of an "oversimplification." I think each of us has a lot of motivations for their positions, and I'd guess "righteousness" didn't make it anywhere the top of the list. But I'll do the survey, spreadsheet, and pie chart first, and get back to you.