Archive for November, 2009

“Vampires” and Standby Power

Standby Power.

It’s surprising how little people know about the commodity we all use so much of – electricity. Despite pervasive discussion of the issue at my undergraduate institution, Lawrence University, for instance, I have come to the realization that few individuals at my graduate program in Environmental Science know about power “vampires.”

“Vampires” are devices that, when plugged in to the wall electricity outlet, draw power even when not “on” or in use. They are so called, because they suck power and run up electricity bills for households and businesses. It has been estimated that up to 5 or even 10% of consumer power usage is due to these “vampire” electronics. Examples of vampires include your cell phone charger, which draws up to 1 watt of power when plugged in and not charging your phone, and televisions, which draw an average of 7 watts when “off.” Other examples are microwaves, coffee makers, computers, printers, DVD players, stereos, fax machines… the list goes on and on. The website linked at the outset of this post, Standby Power, provides a more complete overview of the topic of standby power, as well as a list of vampires and their typical power draw.

How can you identify vampires in your home? Look for that little blue or red LED light that stays on, even when the device is off. Eliminate vampires by plugging devices into a power strip, which prevents electricity from being drawn needlessly from the wall into electronics. Just this small, easy action can help improve electricity use efficiency, as well as cut your electric bill.


Yes! Magazine: Building a Just and Sustainable World

Yes Fall 2009 issue cover

Image credit:

Last week in the mail, I received the Fall 2009 issue of Yes!, a magazine I’d never heard of, and to which I did not subscribe. However, this magazine may be the best piece of unsolicited mail I have ever received. Subtitled “Building a Just and Sustainable World,” this magazine was filled with articles on building stronger community, retooling our education system to really educate people instead of just schooling them with how to stay afloat in the current everyone-for-themselves world, and inspiring stories of grassroots environmental activism. I don’t think I have ever been so accurately targeted with a piece of junk mail (unless someone secretly sent me a subscription to the magazine).

The Yes! Magazine website describes the goal of the organization to provide “inspiring solution-oriented journalism” and “connections with like-minded people.” If I may be allowed to judge from reading their Fall 2009 issue cover-to-cover, they have clearly succeeded in meeting these goals. The articles published by Yes! cover topics ranging from the holistic alternative education efforts in the place-based education movement, the community revitalization efforts of programs such as Detroit Summer, and the innovative inner life and education ideas of Parker Palmer. This issue is chock-a-block full of inspiring articles filled with real-world solutions to the problems of our communities, our schools, and our environment today.

This issue of Yes! reminds me what is truly important and amazing about our world: the capacity for change in the status quo. Our current, individual-, consumption-based society struggles with creating healthy, mindful, strong individuals committed to their community and the betterment and sustainability of our world. In an educational system and corporate climate based on test scores and competition, we seek to groom individuals for obedience, prejudice, competition, and to remain just far enough removed from the natural world so that we can destroy it without it weighing too much on our conscience. We can change this status quo. We can educate with the aim of cultivating individuals who know how to sustain healthy relationships, are not afraid to voice their own opinions and beliefs or to challenge others’ opinions, are intelligent but also mindful and think before they speak or write. The place-based education movement, with its aim of providing students with relevant experiences so that they are learning for a purpose and not just memorizing facts for a test, uses the community as a classroom and laboratory to encourage individual exploration and also connection with and responsibility to those around us.

These are the values key to creating a society that will work together to transform this planet into a “just and sustainable world:” a belief in lifelong education that comes from within and is nurtured by a vital community, a healthy sense of responsibility to others and to the earth, and a desire to see and create the positive change needed in the world. Yes! magazine tells the stories of change we need to inspire sustainable action in our own lives.

*Post script: My mother has fessed up to sending me the “unsolicited subscription.” Thanks, Mom! Now I can look forward to the next issue of the magazine.