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Diary: Laura Carr '13 Writes about Her Life of Sustainability During "No Impact" Week

Laura Carr '13 outside of Lincoln-Edmunds, where she used solar-powered energy during "No Impact" week.

Laura Carr '13 outside of Lincoln-Edmunds, where she used solar-powered energy during "No Impact" week.

Editor’s note: Last month, Pomona College students powered down for Energy Month, pledging to reduce energy usage. Dorms competed against dorms to save the most energy, and Pomona competed against Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna. All told, almost 40 percent of students took the pledge. We'll be reporting later this month (when the energy bills arrive!) which residence hall won the Energy Month competition.

As part of Energy Month, students could also take the No Impact pledge, which required them to completely unplug their room from the grid for one week. We asked Laura Carr ’13 to keep a diary about her unplugged week.

As part of Pomona’s Energy Month, I took the online Energy Month pledge, promising to think about my energy usage, switch off my power strip, turn off the lights when not using them, etc., for this month and beyond. Then I checked the final box on the page: “I will unplug my room from the grid from Wednesday, November 17 to Wednesday, November 24.” Easier said than done. This is what I did.

Wednesday, November 17

7:34 a.m.: Getting a nice, early start. Let the day’s environmental damage begin!

7:56 a.m.: Fire up laptop, coasting off last night’s charge. Laptop is on the dimmest setting, as it always is, to make the battery last.

9:00 a.m.: Up to Smith Campus Center to print (double-sided) assignments. Would ordinarily print in Wig, but am rooting for my old alma dorm to win the dorm energy competition by a landslide. (Go, Wig!)

Take a moment to outline expectations and goals:

  • Do all laptop/cell phone charging in Lincoln-Edmunds to hopefully milk whatever electricity the solar panels can produce in the weak November sun, what there is of it…
  • Shower before dinner in the daylight so as to avoid turning on the lights
  • Do a few things I won’t continue doing after the week is over--concessions to No-Impact Week
  • Do a few things I will continue doing after the week is over--new good habits are always good.

6:00 p.m.: Return to room after dinner. It’s very dark. Realize I should have packed up to go to the library while it was still light. Open the door to let in light from the street lamp and manage.

6:30 p.m.: Maybe I should just live in the library this week. I’m realizing pretty much everything I need is here: light (important), food downstairs, comfy sofas, plenty to read….

10:27 p.m.: Bed! Early bedtime = fewer waking hours of environmental impact and more sleep! Writing this by small but surprisingly bright LED flashlight. Like a camp-out--fun!

Day 1 successes: absolutely no electricity use at all in my room until bed, at which time I had to plug in my alarm clock, also on the dimmest setting. Total energy use included: laptop battery; charged battery in Carnegie (whoops, will try to do better); mooched off roommate’s light for about 10 minutes; mooched off street lights; flashlight battery. Not bad, room for improvement.

Thursday, November 18

7:42 a.m.:  Up. Unplug alarm clock. Don’t need it during the day; can always check time on watch or cell phone.

9:38 a.m.: Laundry. Oops—although it’s not technically an energy impact happening in my room. And I did do a full load (of course I did a full load--I’m a college student) and washed in cold water. Hang clothes out to dry on clothesline outside my room.

9:58 a.m.: Shower. Morning showers, which are barely tolerable, are a major compromise for No-Impact Week, but at least I can use daylight and not have to turn on the lights. Probably (definitely) won’t keep doing this after the week is over, although in the months when the sun doesn’t go down at two in the afternoon, as it seems to be doing now, I can manage fine in the evening with the lights off.

5:15 p.m.: A bit of pacing back and forth in a mostly darkened room; the sun has gone down and people haven’t returned from lab yet to go to dinner. Can’t start homework until I go up to the library after dinner.

6:15 p.m.: Off to library. Remembered to pack up all I’d need before sundown, so I just grab my backpack and go.

Friday, November 19

8:40 p.m.: This is the first time I’ve turned on the lights since Wednesday; actually must shower tonight since I tutor for Upward Bound at Harvey Mudd tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. Use flashlight before bed.

Saturday, November 20

Didn’t use a single watt of electricity in my room all day.  Spending most of my time in Lincoln-Edmunds and the library. Flashlight before bed.

Sunday, November 21

10:00 a.m.: Have caved in and dried clothes in the clothes dryer; it’s just too cold and rainy for them to dry on the line. Can’t say I didn’t give them a fair chance, though. Really bad timing for using the clothes dryer, but this is only the second time in the two years I’ve been here that I’ve used a dryer.

1:30 p.m.: Working and charging phone and laptop in Lincoln-Edmunds. Sun? Solar panels? I’m realizing that it would be much easier to have a no energy impact week in the spring when it’s lighter and warmer.

6:00 p.m.: In room, in the middle of homework, having decided it would be a bit too disruptive to head off to the library just now. Cheating a bit by using light from roommate’s lamp--she’s working here and would be using the light anyway.

9:00 p.m.: Back to Lincoln-Edmunds quickly to top off the charge on my laptop so I can coast tomorrow.

Monday, November 22

Time for a brief digression: So much of my energy use and, I suspect, the energy use of my peers is occasioned by laziness. Why trudge all the way to the library for light if I can just switch on my lamp? Why bother to schedule my day--homework, laundry--to take maximum advantage of daylight? I know by now that everyone has a different threshold for the number of small conveniences they’re willing to exchange for reduced carbon footprint; plenty of people think a sustainable lifestyle is synonymous with self-denial and austerity.

Well, what they say about strange foods goes for sustainable actions, too, as far as I’m concerned: Just try it. At least once. A lot of the things I do that might seem inconvenient or unpleasant to others are things that I, too, at one time thought might be difficult. I’m not an environmental saint; I don’t do everything right. But I tried a few things and I’m trying new things all the time and, what do you know, they’re not so bad after all. The beauty of Pomona’s sustainability-themed months is that we get to try new actions on for size, just for a week or a month. Some of them stick.

Tuesday, November 23

7:30 a.m.: Up, shower (ugh) with daylight.

10:00 a.m.: Laptop completely dead. Use Wig computer to check email quickly, then up to ITS to print.

3:45 p.m.: Too dark to work in room. This is like living inside the Arctic Circle in midwinter. Up to Lincoln-Edmunds to bring laptop back to the land of the living.

Wednesday, November 24

7:41 a.m.: Up, unplug alarm clock. Everything in my room is already unplugged, but ordinarily I’d double-check this, since I’m going home today on the train (Metrolink to Los Angeles Union Station, then Amtrak up the coast). No sense in leaving anything plugged in over break.

9:10 p.m.: Arrive home to a house that’s probably 54 degrees inside; my parents are judicious with their heater usage. I’ve trained them well, bless their hearts. Now, all that remains is for me to see how well I’ve trained myself: Which more sustainable lifestyle habits that I’ve started this week will I retain? It’s all a learning experience, and all I can do is to try to do better.