Day household is addicted to electricity. Our
careless consumption has consequences beyond the
light bill: pollution, mountaintop removal and
greenhouse gases among them.
rural electrification first came to the hills and
hollows of the Blue Ridge, some of the first
recipients of this wonder jammed corncobs into
their new outlets to keep the “juice” from
running out onto the floor.
and I live in a big, rambling farmhouse built in
1904, before electricity was available in Meadows
of Dan. No matter. The juice we crave is never beyond arm’s reach
are junkies. We are addicted to electricity.
We mainline electrons. And we let plenty of
them run out onto the floor.
never counted up the light bulbs we use. I’m
thinking now... four in each of four ceiling
fans, eight in one bathroom. All kinds, all over,
big, little, clear, opaque. Some tubes,
others little more than apparitions, fragile and
tear-shaped. Bulbs are everywhere — in the
basement, the attic, the patio, the porches, the
garage, the barn, the deck, and, of course,
throughout the house — and we burn enough of them to
trump the Milky Way.
Gadgets feed our
addictions to the “juice.” We have televisions and
radios and sound systems, stoves, refrigerators
and freezers, and coffee makers and microwaves,
bread-making machines, knife sharpeners and can
openers, handy-dandies that grind and chop and
shred and blend and puree -- scary, bladed things
that emit high-pitched whines and look like
they’d be good for cutting fingers off.
The pumps (five) in our house and ceiling fans
(four) have become invisible. My tools
compress air and cut and drill and sand and saw
and plane and edge and spray; others steam
wrinkles from cotton shirts and make my trouser
creases sharp, and process words (these words) and
print them, and sharpen pencils.
These implements of our addictions are talented
and beguiling. They vacuum floors and heat
and cool and circulate air, and will do the same
with water, if that’s the switch I hit.
Our tub has jets that soothe our bones. Our
shower has jets, too — six of them.
favorite chair will stand me up or lay me down
electrically — with a button press — to sleep,
perhaps, my soul to keep.
red, round barrel-looking thing smokes good trout
for us if I add the basis of the smoke (hickory
chips are wonderful, but apple wood is best);
clunky, fold-up contraptions turn out waffles, and
pattern burn marks onto steaks and chops, and
grill delicious, lovely sandwiches.
quick story here: A thriving church on Deep
Water Creek in the Indian Valley section of
Carroll County broke up and disbanded when the
first light bill hit. The roof of that
church has fallen in now. Trees grow up
through it. That bill for a dollar and
twenty cents ($1.20) set the devil loose in that
Until a month ago, our
electrical addictions cost us, on average, about
$150 each month — not too bad, as addictions go.
Or is it?
The real cost is not
what we’ve been paying.
is correlation between wattage consumed and how
much we pay each month, but the real cost is more
complicated than that — if you factor mountaintop
removal and carbon dioxide emissions into the
The real cost is the
behavior our consumption forces on the part of our
electricity provider. The real cost is the
demand we make. There is a direct
correlation between our electricity addiction and
every ounce of mountaintop removal, a direct
correlation between our consumption and every
particulate of carbon dioxide emission.
A month ago, my wife and I decided to consciously
change our consumption behavior. It was
nothing drastic. We stopped using our
clothes dryer and I put up an outside clothesline.
We agreed to run the dishwasher only when it was
full. And we agreed to turn off the lights
when we were not using them.
know the size of our carbon footprint. It is
probably huge, all things considered. I do
know this. It is smaller than it used to be.
We got our electric bill yesterday — eighty-seven
there are a couple of other things I know: Power companies don’t build power plants for
lack of something better to do. They build
power plants to meet demand, and that demand is
us — all of us.
March 24, 2008