Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Friday, November 02, 2007

The Price of Conservation

The Spanish are frugal when it comes to energy consumption. It’s not because they are a country of eco-hippies; it’s because most energy here is rather expensive and they would rather spend their money on ham and wine than put it into their gas tanks or send it off to the electric company. Maybe instead of spending their money on energy they choose to take another day off and not even earn the money in the first place. What is more important in life: A couple of tanks of gas or a day off with family and friends? Assuming that you don’t work for the oil industry I think most people would choose to have another day of vacation.

One of the first things that you notice as an American when you visit Spain is that they all drive small cars, some of them are really small. Some of them look more like children’s toys, like something that could run on a couple of D cell batteries. If you wonder why they drive these cars, your questions will be answered the first time you go to fill up. Gasoline in Spain costs about twice what most people in the United States pay. If wine in Spain was as expensive as gasoline, I’d have to find a new hobby, and the new hobby certainly wouldn’t involve an automobile.

As good as public transportation is here, I’m surprised that so many people choose to even own a car in the first place. Besides high fuel prices, there is no place to park and traffic is nightmarish during most of the peaks hours. I think it must be a sort of a status thing where people feel like they deserve to drive around town because they make enough to own a car. I have never been able to understand people’s fascination with the automobile. I feel that cars were the biggest mistake in the course of human history.

Hot water is a bit of a precious commodity here as well. When I lived in Greece many years ago I used to follow the Greek custom of only turning on my water heater before I was going to take a shower or do the dishes and then turning it off promptly when I had finished. Most people here have a gas hot water heater that heats the water directly when you turn on the spigot instead of storing hot water in a huge reservoir. These hot water heaters are also about the size of a small suitcase, an important consideration when you live in an apartment and space is valuable.

Clothes dryers are almost unheard of here. Valencia has nice weather with something like 300 days of sunshine a year so hang drying clothes is almost never a problem. During the summer and the months attached to it on either side of the calendar year, clothes are dry in a few hours when left on a line either on your roof or the balcony. If I have the choice I will never use a dryer again, not unless they make one as energy efficient as the sun. This also adds a lot to the lifespan of your clothes.

People also use electricity pretty sparingly. Air conditioning is not nearly as common here but it is becoming more so because it gets really, really hot in the dogs days of summer. I lived without it my first summer here and I made it through without much complaint. I used a fan for sleeping but during the day I really don’t mind the heat. The apartments all have wonderfully cool marble or parquet floors that are the next best thing to air conditioning. My apartment didn’t have heat which meant that I had to suffer for about five weeks during the chilliest part of the winter. If my apartment had a clothes dryer I would have crawled into it and stayed there for almost all of January. Going without heat is asking a bit much of a man in man’s quest to be more environmentally conscious.

There are lots of lights on timers which shut off after a set time. You find these in the hallways of apartment buildings and in some public restrooms. Some of the timers are so comically short that I wonder whether or not I may be playing a part in some sort of funny home video pranks. Like the timers in these incredibly small bathrooms that go off after you are nowhere near ready for them to go off. You don’t know whether to stay the course or try to turn around and grope around for the switch. No matter what, it gets about as messy as a Stevie Wonder doing a drive-by shooting. They say that when you lose one of your senses your other senses become more acute. In this case, it’s usually your sense of embarrassment. Once again, I don’t think that we need to take this sort of drastic measure to save the planet.

So the Spanish are more conscious of the energy they consume. This has nothing to do with the fact that they are more concerned with the environment; it is a matter of simple economics. They use less energy because it is more expensive than it is for Americans.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you can't say something nice, say it here.