I can still hear my dad say that when one of us kids left the back door open in winter. I can also hear, "Turn off the lights" "If you are cold, put on a sweater" and "Don't hold the fridge open!". Usually he could call these things out from the other room and I was always amazed that he knew that I did actually forget to turn off my bedroom light even though he was sitting in the living room. We were conserving energy in the 1970's long before it was hip to be green. We were conserving energy because there was an energy crisis, because my dad was a cheapskate and because he was raised by depression-era parents who wasted nothing.
Now it is my turn to yell out, "Why is every light on in the house?" and "Don't let the water run while you are brushing your teeth" (from the other room). The hip green movement has led to some pretty cool options like hybrid cars, bamboo clothing and high efficiency appliances, but as a culture we are often more interested in what we can buy than how we can conserve. Doing without or doing with less is practically un-American. Yet, as wonderful as a hybrid car is, the better option is to simply drive less. Compact flourescent light-bulbs are great, but it doesn't mean we should leave all our lights on. We need to combine a bit of the 1970's conservation ethic with the 2008 green consumer fashion.
To get our kids engaged in the kilowatts we were using, we took a look at our We Energy bill and compared usage from one year to the next. We were excited to see that after some swapping out of light bulbs and high-efficiency appliances, our usage actually went down (although the cost still went up!). This motivated us to challenge ourselves to lower it even further-"how low can we go???" Kids often want to do something to help global climate change and turning off the lights, not wasting water in the shower and putting on an extra blanket in winter is something tangible they can do to make a difference. When we sat down with our kids, they came up with lots of ideas on their own. Now when we remind each other to turn off the lights, it isn't mom and dad nagging, but a kind reminder of a family project.
There are some cool websites where you can calculate your family's carbon footprint, such as
It is a nice reinforcement for what you are doing well and shows concrete areas where you can improve. By looking at it in sections, this can be less overwhelming and allows us to tackle one area of change at a time. As I am writing this, I am thinking of ways to keep kids and families engaged in this. Like many families, we give our children daily and weekly chores. I wonder how it would work to have each of them "in charge" of a specific area to oversee for the month (water, lights, heating/cooling, transportation etc). They could monitor the rest of us/keep us in line and think of ideas for how we can do better. I think I might find that it is not only the kids in our house that need some gentle reminding from time to time to turn the lights off.