Saving energy … with moderation
Since I was a very young girl I’ve been very sensitive about energy issues. I would always turn off tap water when I didn’t need it (for example, while washing my teeth, I used not to let water run); always switched off lights when leaving a room; always tried to use public transport or my bicycle when possible . . .
That was quite easy for me and I enjoyed behaving responsibly towards the environment.
Then I grew up (a bit). I no longer live with my parents and instead share my house with a partner. I am far busier. I think things changed somehow. Many of those habits are still with me but – slightly paradoxically – enhanced awareness of environmental issues has not been accompanied by enhanced efforts to cut energy usage. If anything, I’ve grown a bit more careless.
This is something I asked myself quite a few times and I think there may be different answers. For example. I use the dishwasher, the washing machine and the tumble dryer maybe a little bit more than necessary. Why? Because tidiness and cleanliness – not having dirty things around – is a true ‘cultural’ value in my house now. It means a lot to my partner as the sign of an emancipation from habits he disliked in his youth. I use planes a lot. I need to move around because of study reasons. But I also like to travel and I would not give up the opportunity to discover the world in the name of reduced carbon emissions… and anyhow… would I really make a difference? I normally take long and very hot showers. When I get to the end of the day I just feel I need one.
I could simply conclude that I grew more selfish and self-interested – and I would probably be correct, at least in part.
But I think there is more to it.
The feeling I have when thinking about my practices is that there is a lot in them that does not wholly depend on me. There are cultural values, there are entrenched habits, there are necessities and there are also material hindrances to living sustainably. The more one grows up the more one gets entrenched in all these… paradoxically becoming less autonomous. Something else as well. I said my awareness about environmental issues is enhanced. But then also my awareness of how little my action counts and how things like research, new technologies and relevant policies can do far more for the environment than I can. This does not mean that I think I can relinquish responsibility. But in some way it has mitigated my attitudes.
So when one is to think about sustainable behaviour, it makes little sense to frame the question around whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. More useful would be to ask what are the complex and interrelated factors that determine our habits.
I use the dishwasher, the washing machine and the tumble dryer maybe a little bit more than necessary. Why? Because tidiness and cleanliness – not having dirty things around – is a true ‘cultural’ value in my house now.