I needed something vaguely humorous to start off this blog post, so I asked my little sister why leaving lights on is bad for the environment. Like the brilliant sibling she is, she delivered beautifully:
‘Because the energy comes from nuclear power stations, and they steal atoms, which is really bad for the planet. Wait, why are you laughing? I thought we needed atoms to live, don’t we?’
I find her explanation somewhat more poetic than the usual one. It conjures romantic images of wicked thieves stealing innocent people’s atoms in the dead of night and using them in their nuclear power stations to fuel our lights.
However, I’ll have to go with the more scientific explanation, the one that makes this topic relevant for the Carbon Files.
Obviously, our lights- and the vacuum cleaner, the toaster, laptop, TV and all the rest of them- guzzle electricity like nobody’s business. That electricity, like my sister said, comes from power stations, and very nearly all of those big guys are bad news on the carbon front.
Stations powered by fossil fuels are generally burning those fuels to produce energy, setting carbon dioxide free in the process. But that’s by no means all. Getting to them in the first place involves energy-swallowing procedures like mining or drilling. There’s also the transport to think of- pipelines, ships, trucks, trains, to get the fuel from the source to the power station. Again, energy is being wasted and carbon dioxide is being produced.
And then you have to build the energy plants themselves. This is where pretty much every manmade energy source is wasteful and loses on carbon points. However great solar and nuclear energy might be on not using finite sources like fossil fuels, however little transport it takes to get the wind to the windmill, you still have to build the whacking great things. You need factories to produce the bits, more factories to build the bits into larger parts, and even more factories to stick them all together.
That’s why electricity production accounts for nearly 40% of our carbon dioxide emissions – a pretty huge proportion, and definitely worth trying to do something about.
So what can we do about it? My little sister’s right about this one, too – use less energy. That’s something we can all do. Turn off the lights when you don’t absolutely need them on, don’t leave the TV or the air-con blaring all day and night, and for heaven’s sakes unplug stuff you’re not using because we all know standby’s worthless.
Chances to save energy can be found where we least expect it. For example, I turn off the lights in the girl’s loos when I leave after school. Because I hang around for a long time (this make me sound like a really sad teen- I have a long school day, it’s not a choice!) and am amongst the last to leave, I know that probably nobody else is going be going in. I also know that the caretaker wouldn’t turn the lights off until hours later. It’s a little thing, but I know it’s adding up.
When you leave the house next, check every light, make sure windows are shut (because heat’s an escape artist), unplug anything you can and turn the heating down. It should become routine for everybody, because only when we all play ball can we cut down that 40% and stop those sneaky bad guys from stealing all our atoms for power stations. Or something.
~ this whole wide world