When I was 12, I visited my grandparents for a month in the Dominican Republic. It was my first time in my dad’s native country, and I stayed with the them for about a month. I was amazed at how people lived without computers, air conditioners and hot water. Every shower I took was a symphony of my shrieks and chattering teeth. The power was extremely faulty and shut on and off a few times throughout the day. At first, all of this was extremely unpleasant, but I learned to appreciate the cold showers at the end of a long sweaty day, to sleep with open windows and a fan, listening to the sounds of the night. Who needed constant entertainment from a television or computer when you had cards and dominos and a grandfather willing to teach me all of his ways to pass the time. When I came home, I vowed to take shorter showers and to remember to turn the lights off in a room I was exiting. That was 11 years ago, and I admit that I have become less conscious of my constant consuming.
My grandparents’ home in the Dominican Republic
According to the United Nations Statistics Division, per capita, the United States used 12,954.2 kWh of power in 2012. Compare this to the Dominican Republic’s 1,472.6 in the same year. This means that per person, the average American used almost nine times more kilowatt hours than a Dominican. I know that this is largely due to the fact that we have electricity here that rarely falters and more access to electronics, but the fact still is that we somehow use this outrageous amount of power. We spend more time indoors staring at screens than playing games and having conversations with those closest to us. We carelessly leave all the lights on when we leave our homes for the day.
There are ways to decrease our power use. We can, for instance, turn off lights in rooms we are not occupying. I chose to go without an air conditioner this summer and use my ceiling fan. Everyone in my house sets the air conditioners to high power, and I’m constantly reminding them to set them to power save. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 23 percent of our power consumption is “idle load electricity,” or electricity used by devices even when they’re not being used. According to them, there are a few ways to reduce this quarter of power consumption. One of these solutions is connecting devices such as televisions and speakers to a power strip. This way, you can shut them off completely using the switch while you are at work or school. Another way to conserve energy is to plug appliances into timers so that are only used a certain time of the day, such as a coffeemaker or lamps so that they only use energy at the time they are needed.
In addition to these solutions, I wanted to find a way to save energy that made things more personal. I live with my dad and sister, and we all have long days. A lot of times the only time we spend together is at the end of the day, watching The Office on Netflix or some other show. I’m going to suggest that we turn the tv off (and the power strip it’s connected to) and just talk to each other about our days, even if it was a bad one. It’s easy to avoid meaningful conversations with your family when you can hide behind the noise and distractions of a tv. So, in my quest to be more energy efficient, I want to use that time I would be using listening to music alone in my room or watching tv as a time to reconnect with my family. We spent so much time having conversations and laughing when we went to the Dominican Republic. Maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision back then, but it can be now.