More often than not I see people posting online in various social media formats about the latest gym performance. So many miles run, cycled, rowed and so many calories burned. And it struck me. Why aren’t we harnessing that energy in gyms and homes to make a more self-sufficient source of power? Why aren’t we being our own generators? It’s a fairly simple set-up and taught in many schools as a science project. How to connect a static bike to a light bulb and generate the power to light the room. If every home with exercise equipment swapped to a dynamo bike or preferred machine – treadmill for example – we could all be using leg power, human power, to offset our consumption.
But that very word consumption: we eat a meal, we have consumed it. What comes out is never pleasant or good for anyone. See where I’m going with that one? Good, because I don’t like to talk by-products! But where does this continual consumption come from? Consumerism. We’re back to consuming then. Faster from the 1980s onwards, and encouraged by the US bigger, brighter, stronger style of living that swept the board, we now expect 24/7 everything with bright lights, constant warmth and give no thought to where that all comes from. Nor at what cost.
Remember the days when people looked up and saw the Milky Way overhead? No? That would be because most people, townies and suburban bliss-dwellers, now to witness the beauty of the night sky must travel. Out of town and far enough away from it to lose the effects of light pollution. The very term light pollution deserves some consideration. Those bright lights and big cities blind us to our world and the enormity of it. They pollute our fuller vision, but in more ways than one. The power required to keep them lit in such a widespread and dare I say garish fashion is so much we would work a lifetime to pay one day’s bill. And because we can’t conscion that, we automatically forget what it consumes then belches back out.
We need lighting on the roads. Why? Because we no longer down tools at last light and head home. We travel at high speed too dangerous to do by darkness. We work on because someone wants the money we can bring in for them then break our necks to return home and switch on the television in a fully lit home. Capitalism and its alter ego consumerism. I hear the 1980s echoing again. Capitalism wears the face of consumerism to make us think we all wanted it. Do we all share the benefits or do we sacrifice family, fun and our very planet to earn money for someone else? Think about it. And all the while we churn out waste from our efforts to remain under the illusion that life is better now.
All the while we are told we must save energy we must cut our power consumption. At the same time, Harvard University publishes a study that seems to confirm the blue light from energy saving light bulbs is harmful to our health in the longer term. So, we need alternatives again and we need also to find more means of reducing consumption on a more global scale.
Well, then. What about big business in 24/7 call centres and 24/7 shopping malls? Not so much of a demand from governments for them to cut the use of power. Capitalism fed by consumerism once more. We light the streets every evening yet shops leave glowing signs lit up even when closed just so people don’t forget they’re there. We flood-light places of local interest even when they cannot be visited. Councils put up sculptures and flood light them after dark then tell us they cannot afford to maintain public services any longer; that we must sacrifice our parks and libraries, our art galleries and music venues. What is the benefit of flood lighting a premises no-one can enter after hours anyway? Is it so the security staff have a nicer view? Or is it so organisations can show off their affluence and taste? Again, think about it.
When all are pressured to take part in energy saving schemes, why do we say okay and fail to point the finger right back and say I will if you will to these organisations. We don’t need street lighting in quite the same volume as we have it. There was once a day when they were lit manually, a flame in the dark to keep folk safe at night. We have more environmentally friendly ways of doing that now than we had then. Why do we still use electric lighting where we can all hear the hum of them as we pass by? They are on clocks and use power even when not lit. Save power? You first!
We now can buy such things as clockwork lanterns and torches. They give off a whiter light that makes seeing in the dark so much clearer. Oranges are not the only fruit gains a whole new meaning! Is there any need for any other source of lighting than for someone, a paid employee of the community, to wind lanterns once a day and light the streets for the hours of darkness? Not safe up a ladder I hear the cry. Has anybody seen how easy it is to make a telescopic pole? Materials – melt down what we would no longer need and notice it would take a fraction of the amount to make things so less voracious of consumption and so much clearer we would need far fewer. Add a Fresnel of better quality and we would be basking in the glow of clean and clearer light.
For walking the streets at night, we could be so daring as to remember people used to carry lanterns with them and make their way unscathed. Fancy that! We can’t seem to remember how to do that. And why we’re out at night comes back down again to this 24/7 all-consuming lifestyle we seem to have adopted as normal and healthy in the
space of thirty to thirty-five years. I know because I remember the days when shops and offices all shut and people went home. If carrying a lantern is too inconvenient, there are many ways to mount a bright and lightweight source of light on one’s person.
Do we really need this manic, unsleeping society? Jobs. Well, I do realise there are more people employed for the later opening hours. But would they not still be needed to cater for the volume of earlier-in-the-day need? We wouldn’t even need to build more offices with the fibre networks enabling people to work from home with the same capability as in an office. Better for the family, better for fuel consumption, better for power consumption without fluorescent lighting and air conditioning as a constant drain. Some jobs would even be created to ensure our simple, clockwork and cleaner lifestyle remained wound up and all of our dynamo equipment would need maintenance and safety checks to name but a couple of areas that would expand. Someone would need to do all of that.
Imagine though that we lived in a world where we could see far enough by one light instead of five and where we saw the Milky Way above us because we didn’t dye the night sky orange with hideously artificial light. Our ancestors lived without that and were so much more aware of the planet and its needs. They invented the means to tell time and navigate with only the stars and the sun to guide them. Not electronic sat nav. They found ways to make themselves happy and live constructive lives without the need to turn night into day. So I feel, when we look at energy needs and costs, we need to look not at what we can do to maintain the status quo with lower impact but at the reasons we live the way we do.
Consumerism. Consuming. Over consuming leads to morbid obesity and we are about to reach that point in metaphorical terms. The heart of the planet and the heart of society too is about to burst from the strain of what we put it through. I wonder how many people would be willing to let go of the pressure of modern living to learn a better, cleaner and more sympathetic way of living. But will our capitalist governments and big business ever let us do so? We can leave them with no choice if we work together to make the solutions a reality.