When 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.
My wife and I live in a big, rambling
farmhouse built in 1904, before electricity was available in Meadows of Dan.
No matter. The craving we have for it is never beyond arm’s reach now. We
are junkies. We are addicted to electricity. We mainline electrons. And we
let plenty of them run out onto the floor.
I’ve 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 of them — big, little, clear, opaque,
some are tubes, others little more than apparitions, fragile and tear-shaped
— but we have them everywhere —the basement, the attic, the patio, the
porches, the garage, the barn, the deck, and, of course, throughout the
house — and burn enough of them to trump the Milky Way.
Gadgets feed our addictions to the
“juice” —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. A
favorite chair will stand me up or lay me down electrically — with a
button press — to sleep, perhaps, my soul to keep.
A big, 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), and clunky, fold-up contraptions turn
out waffles, and pattern burn marks onto steaks and chops, and grill
delicious, lovely sandwiches.
A 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 church.
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.
Sure, there 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 equation.
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.
I don’t 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 bucks ($87).
And 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.
Barnie Day is a former state
legislator who resides in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.