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Do You Really Need that Light On?

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My father was an environmental visionary. (Who knew?) As evidence, I cite the numerous occasions when he railed at us to turn out the lights when we left a room, scoffed when we asked for a ride to the local swimming pool, and challenged us as we sat reading beside a sunlight window, “do you really need that light on?”

I was reminded of this voice from the past as I listened today to a friend describe the efforts she and her husband need to stay within the energy budget imposed by their generator, the sole power source for their rural retirement home. They choose this power supply as a “green” statement. In a greener-than-thou region of California, they decided not to have PG&E run power lines over hill and dale to their house.

Instead, they ruthlessly hunt and eliminate every power drain. Microwave and coffee-maker are on power-strips so they can be switched off except when in use; the clock on the front panel draws a trickle. Likewise the VCR and TV: microvolts vanish into the circuitry as these appliances retain their settings.

Clocks are wind-type, not electric. They have no air-conditioning unit; for a breeze, they open windows on either side of the house. No vacuum cleaner, either. A Huffy broom scoops dust from the floors and whisks cat hairs from the area rugs. No electric blankets for this couple! Carol drops an extra quilt on the bed if the temperature drops at night.

Still, Carol’s husband follows her around the house at night, watching for potential power-drains. “Honey, do you really need that light on?”

In short, except for the high-tech restrictions, they are doing all those things my family did when we were kids because our parents wanted to keep the power bills in check, and avoid filling the car too often. But it wasn’t only money-saving that motivated my Dad. We had a push-lawnmower, because there were plenty of kids available to shove it around the yard. “Builds character and muscles,” my Dad said.

We were green in a lot of ways in my home. No SUVs prowled the streets then, but my large crowd of siblings jammed somehow into the family station wagon. Littles sat in bigger kids’ laps as we went to church or traveled to Grandma’s house. We dried clothes on that wonder of green-tech, a clothesline in the back yard.

We rode bikes to our high school, and blushingly locked them to the rack near where the “cool kids” parked their cars. “You don’t need a car to go 12 blocks,” my Dad was certain in his opinion. He was right. I didn’t get far without a car while I was in high school.

And now, I hear that echo of Dad’s foresight in the complaints of my environmentally-savvy friends. You can ride your bike to work, can’t you? You don’t need that SUV to drive to the gym for your workout.

And do you really need that light on?

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About DrPat

  • I think the thing I took from my Dad’s strictures was more the sense that each of us has the power to reduce our own energy footprint, if we are so inclined.

    I don’t think Dad was wiser or that times were more disciplined when I was a child. But he did preach conservation in an era when that meant “money doesn’t grow on trees” and not “trees don’t grow if we drive SUVs.”

  • Orchid

    I, too, grew up with parents who were constantly reminding my sister and I to turn off lights in rooms we no longer occupied. Now, I find myself saying similar things to my husband.

    I think that there are two issues at work in the thoughtless wastefulness that pervades American culture. First, most people don’t understand how use of electricity contributes to environmental problems. They can clearly see and understand the issues related to use of gasoline because of the emissions visibly spewing from their vehicles but electricity is clean in their eyes.

    Second, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that we can and should live as comfortably as our finances permit without any regard whatsoever for the damage our wastefulness causes both in terms of consumption of limited resources and pollution.

    The thing our parents and their parents and ancestors had which we don’t is common sense born of the financial and technological limitations of their times. Now, the only way to develop such a sense is through a desire to be ecologically aware and educated. Most people are disinterested in either of those and prefer to blithely live at the limits of their bank accounts (or beyond) and damn the consequences.