The simplest way to find out what you take for granted, is to not have it for a little while. Spending time in a city recently, I’m ever more conscious of the ways in which cars and electricity are taken for granted by those who have access to them. They make life a lot easier. I’ve never had a car, so I find the idea of being able to hop in one and go where you like, when you like, a bit strange, but for the majority, that’s normal. Electricity is another thing we all take for granted – there at the flip of a switch, all the energy to power the devices that enable our lifestyles. Refrigerators, lights, washing machines, vacuums, irons, computers, televisions, game boxes, cookers, air conditioning, and so on. How often do we consciously think about the power we use? It’s just there, waiting to serve our every whim. Maybe we think about use when the bills come in, or in moments of wanting to be greener, but for day to day living? Not so much.
The way we consume and produce energy isn’t sustainable. But we’re so used to flicking the switch and knowing we can have what we want. How on earth could we change? How could we move away from that assumption of use? Because it’s the assumption that we can have what we want, and should have it, which creates the dependence, and the overuse.
For once, I have something a bit like an answer rather than just more questions.
I’ve done a lot of camping over the years. In a tent, or caravan, there is no power supply. You have to run a generator, which makes you a lot more conscious of what you use, and when. Or you have to go somewhere else to source power.
There are increasing numbers of solar and wind units coming onto the market – some aimed primarily at campers. There are solar units that will charge your phone, ipod and other toys. There’s even solar gear coming in that will run your laptop. I’ve seen some very interesting domestic wind turbines too – with those you charge a battery and run from there.
Sustainable energy is unpredictable. On a still day, the turbine doesn’t work, and at night the solar panels won’t give you anything. Which means you have to figure out how to store your electricity, or you have to use it when it’s available, not when it suits you. Talking to people who depend on generating their own energy, I hear that they use their computers and televisions only when the generator is running, because that’s the most efficient way. They think about energy use in a totally different way from people who are used to it being there. They are not miserable however, and have adapted their lives to fit their resources.
When you have to generate your own power, you become a lot more aware of what you use. It’s a similar issue with running a stove rather than a heater – if you bring in the wood and the coal, you know exactly what you are consuming and it changes your attitude to it. You can’t run that kind of heat source without paying attention to it – they go out – so you can’t leave them on by accident, nor are you going to ‘forget’ and open the windows when it gets too warm.
If we all had to take responsibility for generating our own energy, we would not waste so much. We would consider need rather than whim. We would not default to electronic solutions – especially not for entertainment. This I think, would be good. I don’t think electricity is a bad thing – I’m writing this on a laptop and sharing it on the internet after all. It’s our relationship with energy that needs looking at. I’m starting to explore the options for generating my own, and although I’d say I was energy conscious beforehand, that has taken me forward in radical ways. I’m finding I do not need as much energy as I thought I did. I’m increasingly convinced that a lot of the problem lies in what we think we need, and that given the chance and motivation to test this, it is (I am finding) possible to totally rethink that.
Although I’d like a bit more internet access than I’ve had this last week, but that, as they say, is a totally different story.