The Weekly Planet – Taking Our Energy Use Down (Under)

Tara K. Meyer

A year ago I spent a semester studying in New Zealand. However, instead of living in the dorms with the other students abroad, I decided that I would rather “live like a Kiwi” and rent a flat. So I arranged to live in a house with two local rugby players and a local psychology major named Amy. From my very first day, Amy showed me how to use the Christchurch busses, took me to the mall and the grocery store and helped me move in to my tiny room at 54 Balrudry Street.

Adjusting to life down under didn’t seem like it was going to be that hard, until one day I decided to do laundry and I couldn’t find the dryer. Confused, I did what any puzzled American might do: I left my wet laundry sitting in the washing machine. That evening during dinner I asked my flatmates the location of the dryer. I found out there was no dryer. This just perplexed me. Well then how am I supposed to dry my clothes? Amy led me smiling to the kitchen window and pointed outside at the rotating clothesline in our backyard. Sitting at the base of it was a basket full of colorful clothespins. Hanging neatly on the line were my clothes.

It may sound pathetic but it actually took me a while to get used to the whole “pinning your clothes on the line thing.” Some days I felt like I had traveled back in time. The drying process took about a day, depending on how sunny it was outside. Sometimes it would start raining while I was in class and I would come home to a sagging clothesline weighted down by sopping wet clothing. Why then, would anyone choose not to have a dryer?

Actually the reason was a pretty good one: dryers use a lot of energy. Although my roommates weren’t particularly environmentally conscious, they were poor college students and energy costs money. I soon realized there were more missing commodities -like a dishwasher, and heater. But I must confess once I got used to it I liked living the old-fashioned, reduced energy lifestyle.

Now I am not saying that I think all of you should go throw your dishwashers, dryers and portable heaters from the top of the Chapel. But I do think that we can learn something from the Kiwi standard of living.

I know, for example, that Colgate students have the tendency to leave lights on when they aren’t home. And how students who live in campus housing crank the heat up and leave their windows open because “they like the fresh air.” Just because you aren’t paying your energy bill, doesn’t mean that you should be careless about how much energy you are using.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the average American consumes as much as six times more energy per capita than the average world citizen, and nearly twice as much as the average New Zealander according to a report released by the New Zealand government. With global warming an ever-growing issue, it is our responsibility to change these numbers. Habits can be hard to change, so I challenge you to start small. Saving energy is really as easy as flipping a switch, turning off the TV and closing your window.

Of course I believe that we should appreciate the technology in our lives. As proof, I will sheepishly admit that the second I got home from New Zealand I ran upstairs in my house and actually hugged my dryer. The important thing to remember is not to abuse the resources that we have. My Kiwi flatmates may not have been able to afford to use a lot of energy, but we as a nation and a global community cannot afford to waste it. Be energy conscious, step it up and make a change.