I have something to admit. I generally take electricity for granted.
Take just now for instance. I sat down to write, turned on my computer and never once considered that there may not be juice in the line sparking those electrons into a tizzy of visual information. You see, I live in the U.S. and as a result, never really have to go without. The light always goes on, the fridge always stays cold and my cell phone is always charged (well, at least when I don’t forget to plug it in).
What’s more problematic than taking for granted that it will be there, however, is the idea that I have (or had) little idea from whence it came. For the most part, I do know, as we have solar panels on the roof of our house and these little buggers generate most of our volts and watts. But there are times when we use more than we generate, when the sun doesn’t shine, or as with the last few weeks, a part in my inverter breaks and the new one is on back order. So instead of knowing that I was in a sense “covered,” I now have been thinking more and more about the power coming into my house.
Where does it come from, who puts it there, how does it affect them and in a more indirect way, me and my family? The problem it seems is that we are all removed from the process and are therefore not confronted with the questions we should be asking. Consider this for a second. What if instead of turning on the light switch and going about our business, we had to do the following.
Step 1: Open the window and ask Bud next door to head down into the mine and shovel up some coal. While Bud’s down there, you can wait anxiously in the hopes that you won’t hear the mine cave in because Bud’s a good guy and he always let’s you borrow his chainsaw. When Bud comes back up, pay him a couple cents for the wheelbarrow full of coal and head to step 2.
Step 2: Run that wheelbarrow over to Mary across the street and ask her to throw it into her power generator and shoot you over some electricity. Make sure to throw Mary a couple of cents for her work as well and then retire to your house, ready to turn that light on.
Step 3: Try not to look out of the window or you will see all of the pollution that the generator puts out heading to your house where it will build up and hang out as long as you live there. After all, that power may be cheap but it certainly isn’t free, right?
Step 4: Enjoy that extra light in the living room, the one by the big bay window.
Now I know this seems ridiculous, but wouldn’t this kind of accountability make you think twice? I know it would make me. I often think of those guys in West Virginia spending their days down in the mines so I can watch re-runs of “Family Guy” on TiVo and I have to wonder if I’m doing the right thing.
So here are a few ideas I’d like to throw out there.
For starters, check out the EPA guide to how clean the electricity you use is and then follow through on the last page and investigate buying green power. Basically you’ll pay a few bucks extra a month and depending on where you are, they will either supply you with clean power, or buy an amount equal to your usage from green power elsewhere. Either way, you’re being more responsible for your impact. Another interesting site is here. While I need to check further into the info they give out, if accurate, it’s frightening.
The next thing to do is to stop wasting so much in the first place and the first place to start is to turn your lights off. That’s right, simple. Just turn them off. Some friends of mine did this for two months and saved 20 percent on their power bill. That’s money in your pocket, right?
Finally, for today, kill your vampires. Take a look around your domicile right now. Do you have a microwave, a DVD player, stereo, or television? If the answer is yes, all those little buggers are sucking juice 24/7 and amping up your power bill at the same time. Why? Well for starters, anything that has a remote is waiting for you to turn it on. The average VCR, DVD player, or television will use more electricity in the “off” state than it will ever consume while you are using it. And that microwave? If you’re like me and use it to heat rather than cook, it’ll most likely use more power telling you time than it ever will heating your food. It’s a microwave, not a clock, right?
But don’t stop there. Do you have a cell phone, iPod, rechargeable camera batteries? Did you know that almost all of their chargers still use power when plugged in even when they aren’t juicing something? Don’t believe me? Pick up one of these babies and give it a whirl. You’ll be shocked as you go around the house at what you’ll find is sipping watts all day long.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 20 percent of all the electricity used in the average American home is vampire power. If we could cut this out, it would be the equivalent to shutting down 36 coal powered plants. So unplug those chargers and throw those DVD players and microwaves on a power strip. You’ll help the planet, save yourself some greenbacks, and who knows, may even get a few more years out of that TV.
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll do the right thing.”