By Rob Greenfield
This summer I changed my relationship with electricity.
Imagine coming home after a long sweaty day of bike riding and not having the option to take a shower, turn on a fan, use the air conditioning, pour yourself a cold drink, or put ice on your aching knees. All of these things require electricity, and for 104 days as I cycled across America on a bamboo bike, these were all things I could not do. The purpose of my journey was simple: to inspire Americans to start living a more earth-friendly lifestyle for themselves, their community, and the earth.
I set out from San Francisco on Earth Day 2013 with the intention of making it across America without using electricity that I did not create myself. I relied on human energy and pedal power to get most tasks done and solar panels rigged onto my trailer to generate the electricity needed to power my laptop, cell phone, and bike lights.
In order to lead by example I followed a set of rigorous ground rules:
- I could only use electricity I created via my own portable alternative energy devices
- I could only use water harvested from natural sources or that would otherwise go to waste
- I could only eat local, organic, unpackaged food or food that would otherwise go to waste
- I had to create as little trash as possible
- I could only shop at businesses that were socially and environmentally responsible
I made an honest effort to avoid using electricity in every way possible. I avoided using automatic doors and lights. I took the stairs instead of elevators even when it meant carrying my bike up the stairs with me. I didn’t push buttons, such as the walk button used to cross the street. I didn’t use anyone else’s phone. By trying to remove electricity from my life, I started to see how deeply electricity is interwoven into my day-to-day routine. In so many ways, we have forgotten about good old human power and have turned simple tasks, such as walking up the stairs, into an exercise that relies on electricity.
What I did allow myself was to be around electricity that was already in use, such as sitting in a living room full of people. However, I made sure that my presence didn’t affect the volume of electricity being used, e.g. by keeping people up later than usual. It was a challenge to stay with hosts who wanted to cook me dinner, turn on lights for me, and wash my clothes. The hardest part of staying with hosts was that they always opened their electric garage door for me to put the bike inside. I could avoid electricity pretty easily on the streets, but once I was with other people this became much more difficult to accomplish.
I was able to almost completely remove the use of carbon-based electricity from my life. The major exception was signing onto wireless Internet; I’m unsure how much extra electricity a router needs for each computer that is added to it. However, I had a lot of blogging and social media to do to spread inspiration, so I had no problem with using this electricity.
And then came the realization of how much electricity my cell phone was using. It’s very easy to overlook my dependence on electricity now that so much of life is wireless. Even though my phone was powered by solar every second it was on, it was consuming electricity from the use of cellular data. On top of that, I have about 20 GB stored in the cloud which is using electricity 24/7 where it is being hosted. Even my Facebook profile uses electricity!
That is where Renewable Choice comes in. I was introduced to CEO Quayle Hodek by a friend and sat down with him for lunch on a beautiful afternoon in Boulder, Colorado. It was inspirational to meet with Quayle and I learned a lot from him. For example, I can take steps to greatly reduce my electricity usage while still using my phone and the Internet. I can’t control how the electricity to host my Facebook page is being created, but I can choose to offset the electricity I consume with green power in the form of renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.
I’m hopeful that the U.S. will embrace alternative energy–but what I’m more hopeful for is the success of companies like Renewable Choice Energy. They are teaching and helping big energy users to use green power. If every company did that, I wouldn’t have to worry nearly as much about my wireless consumption. I also wouldn’t have to worry about where my electricity was coming from back home in San Diego if more companies started to embrace wind and solar as clean forms of energy.
Electricity is a magical thing. We have made it so convenient that it is easy to forget we’re using it, and so we use more than we need. My journey opened my eyes to electricity. I have a much better understanding of how electricity is produced. I now know that by turning on a light or plugging into a wall, I am burning fossil fuels. This knowledge will help keep me from mindlessly turning on lights when not needed and leaving things plugged in when not in use.
4,700 miles of riding through deserts, over mountains, across the Great Plains, and in rural and urban America gave me time to realize my relationship with electricity. It gave me a lot of time to appreciate it, to feel thankful for this resource and others we have convenient access to. I truly learned the greatness in living simply and living below my means.
Over the 104 days I was on the road, I managed to plug my laptop into only five outlets for a total of 22 hours, not switch on a single light, used just 160 gallons of water, created a mere two pounds of trash, powered myself by my own means all but one mile on a ferry into New York City, and in that time, I learned that the actions of one individual does indeed make a difference. Together, we can unite to create the energy independence that we wish to have. We can unite to create a cleaner, healthier planet for ourselves, our communities, and our earth.
Rob Greenfield founded Greenfield Adventures and The Greenfield Group. His mission is to use his adventures to entertain, educate, inspire, and give back. More than anything he strives to inspire Americans to start living a more healthy happy earth friendly life. Learn more about this adventure and many others on his website and follow him on Facebook.