In March 2012 my wife gave birth to our baby, Ben. Events both before and after this time have changed my own and our family’s energy use in different ways.
Although I have a driving licence, I have always avoided driving – both for environmental reasons, but also because I just don’t like it (especially in the city). However, Anne gently pointed out to me that time would be of the essence when she went into labour – and that waiting at the bus stop might not be the best place to bring Ben into the world. I therefore made myself get used to the car – a few little trips to the supermarket at first, and then becoming accustomed to the route from our home to St Michael’s hospital. I successfully completed the mission, when it came. With Anne and Ben then in hospital for a week after, something odd also happened. For the first time in my life, I actually found myself at the bus stop, in the rain, watching the usual procession of thousands of oblivious car drivers speeding past me, thinking: ‘why don’t I just go and take the damn car like everyone else?’ And I did. Since then, I have come to appreciate what most people already took for granted: that cars are (usually) easier, cheaper, and more comfortable if you want to get around. I still try to avoid it – but have definitely had my ‘good’ habit broken.
The second unexpected way that Ben has changed our energy use has been with respect to home heating. Pre-Ben, my approach would always be to keep radiators turned down when it was warm enough, and turn them up if it was too cold. We have no thermostat and so it was just subjective. One of the things we became aware of during Anne’s pregnancy, however, was that a major risk for babies (which can even result in their death) was being too hot. The ideal temperature for babies, apparently, is about 16-20 degrees centigrade. We bought a small room thermometer, and from his arrival home have obsessively checked whether the bedroom and other rooms of the house are right or wrong for him. It’s summer now, but the thermometer is still on a shelf in the bedroom, and likely will serve as a rudimentary eye on our heating use from this point on.
We did cheerily think that, once we had got used to Ben being around, we would probably switch to the old fashioned, non-disposable nappies. Yeah right. When he has done his business, all I want to do is get the thing off and into a nappy sack as quickly as possible, and then get rid of it. For a small person, he produces a lot of nappies, and each of them ends up in a small blue bag. It doesn’t take long for these small blue bags to become a small mountain of blue bags. Before long, you realise that the new reduced-size refuse bin that the council gave you for your fortnightly collections suddenly seems quite restrictive – although beforehand we often used only to put it out every month. Every Monday night now, though, there is the anxiety of whether there’s enough room for the nappy mountain to fit. And he is just about to move onto the next size up.
A lot of Ben’s food – and sometimes less pleasant things – ends up on his clothes and also our own clothes. I have got used to having a constant smear of miscellaneous goop over me, but it isn’t that great a look if you need to go out to work or want to socialise. Therefore, our washing machine gets rather more use than it used to. Also, maybe our machine isn’t that great – but a cool wash just doesn’t seem to do it anymore. Ben’s stuff particularly tends to get washed at 40 degrees or above. He gets through a lot of outfits too – and although his clothes are only small, there does seem to be rather a lot of them.
Some of the other ways our energy use has changed are that: we now for the first time own a dishwasher (it just saves time, which we have less of); we use the microwave a lot for sterilising his bottles (we hardly used it before); and Anne, who is on maternity leave, uses energy at home more as she is around during the day.
We did cheerily think that, once we had got used to Ben being around, we would probably switch to the old fashioned, non-disposable nappies. Yeah right. When he has done his business, all I want to do is get the thing off and into a nappy sack as quickly as possible, and then get rid of it. For a small person, he produces a lot of nappies …