Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Confession Mondays: it’s hotter than the Georgia asphalt

July 5, 2010

David Davies' "A Hot Day"

To this day I still pride myself on not having central air in my house. For one, I enjoy windows open, birds singing, crickets chirping, cicadas whirring. You can’t hear a damn thing except a rattling air conditioning unit when the air on. That seems to take away all the glamour of living and suffering through the heat.

Besides, there’s something deeply romantic and Hollywood about the heat:

Sailor and Lula rage on about the heat in Wild at Heart.

Mister Senior Love Daddy confirms it over the radio in Do the Right Thing.

Dennis Hopper wipes his brow from it several times during Easy Rider

It’s an omnipresent theme in The Sheltering Sky

But today it’s going up to 101 degrees in parts of Jersey, and we’re not talking dry heat where it’s cool in the shade. This is wet, humid heat, with no escaping; where the air feels thick and heavy like a giant boot crushing you. Air as still and soundless through the heavy limbs of trees like black oil spreading stagnant across  a dead pool.

Ain’t no sense in suffering through that. So, last night, my wonderful boyfriend installed a wall unit in my bedroom, and with the kids on the floor, and I in my bed, we slept in relative coolness.

I’m not all that proud of myself for giving in. But sadly, I’m getting older and the world is getting hotter.


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Notes from my conscience

April 28, 2010

There’s humor in here somewhere.



1. Do not eat meat. It rots in your gut. It is seething with bacteria, growth hormones and feces. And if you can help it, don’t eat any animal products.

2. Stay away from white flour. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s the devil.

3. Sugar will rot your teeth. Avoid sugar. More importantly, avoid sugar substitutes. They cause cancer.

4. Processed foods cause cancer also. They will kill you. Processed foods are a good example of man’s inhumanity to man.

5. You can eat fruits and vegetables, but only organic and only locally grown. Stay away from corporate organic growers in Ecuador and Costa Rica. The travel time and energy it takes to ship these organics foods to your local market depletes the ozone layer.

6. Soy is a scam. Avoid soy.

7. Fish isn’t safe anymore. There’s mercury and PCBs in the water. Don’t eat fish. Take omega-3 vitamin supplements instead, but with a few rules: don’t buy just any over-the-counter fish oil. Check the amount of EPA and DHA of each capsule and what fish they use when extracting the omega-3s. And by all means, make sure you get a pure brand that uses molecular distillation.

8. Stay away from plastic containers. They’re toxic and made with polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate when ingested is like eating arsenic. Drink tap water instead, but only if your water has been tested for bacteria.

9. Keep away from coffee, sodas, caffeinated products, chocolate, alcohol, drugs and sugary sports drinks. They destroy your hormones and upset the delicate Ph balance of your system.

10. Only wear clothing that is 100% domestic, organic clothing. Do not buy from Anthropologie, Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie, Free People, Lucky or any other big name brand for that matter because they disregard child labor laws and operate in foreign countries, bastardizing the local culture and community.

11. Do not buy Pitbulls as pets. They are bred for destruction.

12. Corn and other fruits and veggies are genetically modified. Did I say fruits and veggies were safe? They’re not.

13. As for religion, disregard all organized religions, especially Christianity, Judiasm and Islam. Religions are notorious for misleading the general public into the false belief that man rules the world. Religion moves us away from adapting to the environment to forcing the environment to adapt to us. Bad news. Stay away from religion. Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy, so it’s safe to think about. But don’t organize a group around it. Like in Tibet where Buddhism has become a “depraved Shamanistic religion where Lamas tell fortunes for alms, by the haunches of mutton, or dice; they beg and cheat; to mystify the ignorant, they mutter squeaky conjurations or play with human bones.”

14. Do not watch television or stare at a computer screen for longer than 20 minutes a day. The radiation will burn your eyes out.

15. Masturbation is OK. We now know it doesn’t blind you or cause calluses. Although some blind people do masturbate.

16. Transportation is destroying the environment with CO2 emissions. If you must get from point A to point B use a bicycle, horse, skateboard, surfboard, pogo stick, sail boat or simply walk. Hummers, thank God, are no longer being sold. But electric cars are bad for the environment too. Dead batteries end up in landfills.

17. Use fluorescent bulbs only.

18. Collect rainwater in a cistern or a bucket to lower your water bill. Don’t drink it. It’s contaminated with mold, bacteria, algae, protozoa and small particles of dust not to mention lead, arsenic and pesticides.

19. Keep your shower to a three-minute maximum. There will be no drinking water in 90 years.

20. Do not wear perfume. It’s poison and it causes bees to lose their sense of direction.

21. Avoid make-up. It causes skin cancer.

22. Do not go into the jungle without a face mask. Humans are spreading diseases to the gorilla populations in Africa.

23. Do not pay federal taxes. 54% of your tax dollars go to military spending. War causes global warming. Then again, it causes death, which controls the population. Note to self: rethink not paying taxes.

24. Avoid soaps and shampoos with Sodium Laurel Sulfates.

25. Don’t use cleaning products or bleach or harsh, powdered laundry detergents. Don’t flush these chemicals down the toilet and or dispose of them in the trash.

26. Don’t accumulate trash. The more trash you accumulate the more trash ends up in a landfill.

27. Do not have children. The planet is overpopulated. Children are responsible for generating 1,600 pounds of garbage a year. Children eventually turn into adults and end up generating 128,000 pounds of garbage in a lifetime.

28. Do not buy paper products or use them.

29. Recycle.

30. Do not shop at Wal-Mart, it rapes local economies the minute it sets up shop in town, keeps its employees at the poverty line so as to maintain its profit and “costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year” by not paying its employees enough to get off public assistance.

31. Do not buy a house with more square-footage than you need. It’s a waste of resources.

32. Don’t travel or buy travel literature. It causes global warming.

33. Don’t smoke.

34. Do not marry. Marriage causes children. Homosexuality is safer for the environment as it doesn’t result in children. So, become gay, but stick with one partner. Many partners with unprotected sex causes AIDS and condoms are environmentally unfriendly. Remaining single and masturbating is safest.

35. Don’t spend money. Money generates more productivity. Productivity generates energy, products and ultimately waste. Don’t buy anything ever again. Re-using is safe. Except maybe disposable diapers. In that case, use only cloth diapers and wash ’em.

36. Above all else, avoid McDonald’s. McDonald’s soaks their fries in trans fat, uses lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforests and takes away farmland from poor, third-world countries to fatten up Americans. One meal from McDonald’s is contaminated with urine, feces, blood and vomit and linked to breast cancer, bowel cancer and heart disease. Stay away from McDonald’s.

Is India the answer?

March 30, 2009

Vishnu

This is quite a stretch, but since the heaviness of global warming birthed its own little counterculture I’m finding an inundation of all things Indian—as in India. As in back to the hippiesque Hindu spiritualism of art, music, writing and living. I’m not talking about that corny new age spiritual crap that we used to make fun of back in the 80’s every time the mere mention of “Swami” popped up on a self-help book. I’m talking about a deeper, more homegrown desperation for something so old and enlightening that we hope it saves us if only we could grasp its essence.

For starters, I strolled into Barnes & Nobel yesterday to buy, among other things, a book. Any old fiction book would have done. It was one of those days. But I came upon a display table with a corporate manufactured sign above it that said: “Treasures from India.” Among a rather large collection of items were Pulitzer Prize winning and New York Times bestselling novels like The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. There were books on Hinduism and Buddhism, Ghandi’s autobiography and other spiritual goodies like Indian mediation cards. I bought the Lahiri book, caving into the new craze, wondering why there was this slew of material coming out of New Delhi.

A couple days before that, I noticed Devendra Banhart’s Little Yellow Spider and Carmencita. If anyone knows anything about the lovely Devendra, you’d know that he’s heavily influenced by Hinduism. In fact, his parents named him after a spiritual leader they were following at the time of his birth. That he was able to slip his Hindu leanings into his music and get a record contract confirms my point.

Even in myself, I’ve noticed a subconscious gravitation towards Indian culture. I rented Ghandi last week. I listen to Lata Mangeshkar’s Vaishnav Jan to repeatedly. I predicted Slumdog Millionaire would win the grammy for best picture. I have this strangely pressing desire to go to India and ride the Darjeeling Limited and sip sweet lime.

I won’t even mention Bollywood or Indian fashion making its mark here. From bindis and tikkas to saris and antique Indian jewels, we are appropriating Indian style like the Russians appropriated blue jeans.

And heck, ask yourself why places like Whole Foods are marketing Hindu gods like Shiva and Shakti, prayer candles of the Buddha and yogi incense.

I know these are rather superficial examples. But still, I insist. I feel something deeper.

Expanding culture in a superficial way is one thing, taking bits and piece from one country and adding it to another creates an amalgamation of unique global style. Like the time we all went nuts for anime, or when everyone started wearing the Arabian Yashmagh’s and didn’t even know why. But this new Indian invasion isn’t as one-dimensional as the Macarena. It’s not just about adding flair. It’s not just a book on a shelf or a movie with a picturesque landscape of the Taj Mahal. There’s an underlying message attached to our passion for India and it’s an ancient and spiritual one that seems to offer an answer to our modern day moment of truth.

The fact is, we feel like we’re at a make it or break it moment in time. Like this is our last chance. The fall of Rome, so to speak. We’ve lost our faith in religion, in government, in business. We’ve lost our hope that the planet will be here forever (or at least that humans will be here forever- the planet probably isn’t going any where). Most importantly, we’ve lost the privilege to be ignorant and naïve and wasteful. And I think that’s where India comes in. It gives us the possibility that, if we do fuck up, we can come back again.

In a recent study on faith in America, Hinduism was up compared to Christianity, which remained the same. This may very well be due to an influx in Indian immigration, or more likely, people are converting. Hinduism, after all, accepts and addresses issues which Christianity does not, namely Evolution and the interconnectedness of all things. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to reincarnate. And that is what we’d all like, isn’t it? The chance to come back and do it all again? I keep thinking of Bill Maher’s comment in his film Religulous that Christianity’s belief in human superiority to animals and other living things has only been detrimental to the environment.

The religions of India seem to address our global concerns in other ways as well. Think karma. Think vegetarianism. I know this is a stretch. But how many people now are pushing for less animal consumption based on environmental issues. It wasn’t long ago that PETA implored congress to impose a “sin tax” on the sale of meat because, as they state, “meat is the number one cause of global warming, a looming environmental disaster that threatens the United States.”

Before I start chanting om and change my name to Vidyadevi, I’m kinda wondering how India itself is reaping rewards from its own ancient wisdom. I mean, let’s get real. The country is in shambles, facing pressing problems such as “significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption.”

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the following environmental issues alone are contributing to the problems India faces: deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; tap water is not potable throughout the country; huge and growing population is overstraining natural resources…

Look, I undertstand how we need hope. I get that we are trying as hard as we can to change and do good for our survival. Most of us, anyway. But I just think that glamorizing and devoting ourselves to the ephemeral spirituality of a culture that is running itself into the ground really isn’t the answer. Sure, we can appreciate India’s art, we can pray to all gazillion of their gods. We can read their literature and eat their food. But we cannot get so wrapped up in thinking that India or Hinduism or possibly even reincarnation is the answer, so much so that we neglect our reality.

Global warming and all the other insanity of this country incites us to find our strengths and our ability to recreate ourselves—not become something else entirely or fall prey to some cyclical trend. Sure India has a lot to offer in the way of answers. But it’s not “the” answer. I personally don’t know what the answer is, or if, indeed, there is one. Like the snake eating its own tail, we seek the eternal return. But is it possible?

As “off the grid” as it gets

January 29, 2009

A visit to a Burlington County resident’s rustic home exposes what it takes to “live green.” It’s harder than you think.

 

Shamong, NJ: When you drive up the long, dirt driveway, canopied by scrubby pines and overgrown deciduous trees, there’s an undeniable rustic beauty that unfolds right before your very eyes—even in the dead of winter. And as you get closer to the old log home that sits back from the road on three acres of open space you might be able to dream of the days when early Americans lived off the land, claiming nature as their own.  The grass, at the moment, is tall and brown. The blueberry bushes and Mountain Laurel aren’t trimmed. And the house is shrouded from view by huge, old, gnarly maples whose branches keep it a mystery from the road.

That seems to be where nature leaves off and humanity’s carbon-footprint begins. The stretch of space that wraps around the back of the house has the inherent look of a scrap yard. There’s a Geo Metro parked around the drive. Two old Ford pick-up trucks. Piles of scrap wood. Two-by-fours for burning.  Buckets filled with rainwater. And an enclosed area filled with what looks to be a vintage tractor, scrap metal from old cars and various architectural salvage like old windows, old doors, and a few wrought iron gates.

But what looks like a yard filled with junk and waste, in actuality, is evidence of a green life.

There is no front entrance to the house, so I walk up the L-shape ramp on the back deck to meet the owner. I’m faced with a wall of sliding glass doors and I knock on one that seems to lead to the living room. I don’t have to wait too long before I’m ushered in. John Green (not his real name) shakes my hand. He’s a short man in his late forties, with a full, wiry beard and butt-length dark brown hair that he rolls up in a ponytail and tucks under a baseball cap as we say our hellos. He’s a musician and a restaurant owner, and dressed in what he calls his “usual.” Black workpants that he buys used from Columbus flea market and an off-white waffled thermal undershirt that looks like it needs to sit for a couple days in a bucket of bleach. There’s traces of dirt under his fingernails from working outside all day (it’s his day off), and an earthy smell of cedar, incense and firewood permeate the room.

The inside of the house is much like the outside. Cluttered and dusty. Decorated with antique-ish country kitsch. Tin Coca-Coca signs and pin-up girls from the 50’s. Cast iron skillets hanging from the wall. An extensive collection of oil lamps. The structure, itself, is stunning. Cathedral ceilings with skylights, exposed beams, untreated, unstained hardwood floors, log walls, mohair sofas, an intricately built stone fireplace in the living room. Well-worn orientals throughout. At first glance it looks like a model log home with all the amenities of rustic living. But there’s definitely something unusual about the house. For starters, it’s cold. Maybe 50 degrees, relatively warm compared to the 37F outside, but still cold by most Americans’ standards.

I ask him at what temperature he keeps his thermostat, as I rub my hands together for a little bit of friction. He laughs and tells me it’s not turned on right now. He might turn it on later, in the middle of the night, if it gets below 20, but only to keep the pipes from freezing.

When I was growing up, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to have the thermostat turned up to seventy-something. We lived in fifteen different houses when I was a kid, and every one of them was big and drafty. My father was the king of excess. Possibly responsible for half the deforestation of America due to his job selling copy machines along with reams of chemically treated copy paper. The most I ever knew about conservation back then was my best friend’s dad. He kept the thermostat at 65 degrees no matter what, even through the dead of winter. I remember visiting their house in January, feeling resolutely uncomfortable in sixty-five degrees. Much like I was feeling here in fifty.

John tells me to look around. So, I do. I notice that the kitchen, a small galley-style room to the right of the living room, looks like it doesn’t get much use. There’s an industrial-sized glass-door refrigerator that’s not turned on. A microwave that isn’t plugged in. And a stove sits, unused, collecting dust. There’s a very small trashcan on the floor, which looks as if it doesn’t get much use either. Stairs lead down to a partially finished basement from the kitchen that, as he tells me, he’s finishing himself. There’s a music room lined with at least twenty different well-worn instruments, electric guitars hang from the walls and an old piano with yellow keys sits in the corner.

The oddness of this house is that parts of it look functioning and lived-in, while other parts look as though they’ve been left for abandoned; untouched, vacant.

As he leads me around, I can’t help but wonder where the main “living” goes on in here. Not that I’ve been to every house in Burlington County, but I’m statistically guessing that 95 percent of all homes, though designed differently, all have a central living space with sofa, television, throw pillows, something that generates the business of relaxing and consuming. Aside from the kitchen, this “living space” is usually the room that eats up the most energy. Due largely to our American overindulgence in comfort, the living room is a point of convergence and excess. When I think of my own not-so-green living room (I also have  a family room), I’m a bit ashamed: I have ten lights that work on dimmers, a wide-screen TV hooked up with an X-box, a Wii and some an old Nintendo game system. My children’s computer is in there, equipped with all the necessary printers and speakers and cable box, and so on. The cell-phone charger is in there as well, and in the summer, there’s an air conditioning window unit usually blowing from noon till dusk—but only on the hottest days.

Think about it. Ninety-nine percent of Americans own at least one television set. And the average American household has 2.24 of them. Despite the fact that television use only eats up roughly 2.9% of a household’s energy expense, there’s 26.7% of energy use that comes from computers, cell phone chargers, stereos and so on. Whether in one room, or scattered throughout the house, these technologies increase our carbon footprint dramatically.

US HOUSEHOLD USE OF ELECTRICITY, 2001

 U.S.Household Use of Electricity, 2001

 

As we come back upstairs, he takes me back through the bedrooms; two small bedrooms with closets filled with old clothes, and finally the master bedroom, which indeed, looks lived in. Here it is, I think. The room most used. Clothes strewn about. Hundreds of tiny pieces of paper with phone numbers on the dresser. Books by the side of the bed. And yet, as I scan the walls, outlets and floors for energy-sucking appliances there is literally only one radio on the end table, perpetually tuned to NPR, and a heating blanket plugged in and set on low. Nothing else. Aside from a light fixture above us, which is turned off, traces of inefficiency and energy consumption are simply non-existent. 

“Let me explain…” he says, as if he’s read my mind based solely on the expression on my face; a look of longing for an answer to one simple question: how can anybody live like this? When I think about how much stuff I have plugged into my walls—toaster, refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, coffee machine, hair dryer, stove, stereo, wall adapters, chargers, phones, DVDs, game systems, power supplies, computers, TVs, air conditioning units, lamps, —I feel like my own power station compared to John. And I certainly couldn’t live without these things.

Can any of us?

He walks around the open rooms pointing to empty spaces, unused outlets. He has no television, no computer, no cell phone. He showers about three times a week unless he’s been working hard and gets exceptionally dirty. He has no need to store or cook food because he works at his own family-owned restaurant and so none of the kitchen appliances are plugged in. The little food he does keep at home is usually in the form of dried fruits or nuts, stuff that doesn’t require refrigeration. He uses approximately 270 gallons of oil per year. His electric bill is roughly $20 a month. (mine is a $175 a month). Despite his single status, that’s almost unheard of for a homeowner with a 2,000-square-foot property on three-acres of land in southern New Jersey. By comparison, the average electric bill for a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey is $60.

It gets better. He rarely buys new clothes, not because he can’t afford them, but because he prefers the vintage look. So, he mostly shops at the Good Will or men’s consignment shops. When he washes his clothes, he does so when he showers, with mild soaps, hanging them in one of the spare rooms to dry. He never uses bleach or pesticides (these chemicals create what is known as organochlorines, or chlorinated organics. Environmentalists say organochlorines are extremely toxic and harmful to the ozone layer ). If he needs building materials or supplies, he borrows or trades with his neighbors first, before going out to buy something. And he rarely, if ever, turns on a light in a room he is not presently in.

Considering that our homes account for 18 percent of both energy consumption and CO2 emissions, I was curious to see how John’s capacity for conservation and minimizing waste stacked up to the national average. The only way to do that was to plug some predetermined household facts into a carbon footprint calculator online.  Out of the myriad carbon footprint calculators online I chose one from the UK. The calculators for U.S. residents didn’t offer an opt-out option for things like washers, dryers, stoves or refrigerators. The calculators assumed that your household had an average of two televisions, a computer and a stereo system. John didn’t have any of those things. I needed to be as specific as possible.

So, I plugged in information from his electric bill and oil bill, his transportation habits and appliance use, trying to be as detailed and as honest as possible. Things as seemingly inconsequential as diet needed to be accounted for—a carnivorous diet, for example, may put a much greater burden on the planet than, say, a vegetarian diet. Buying groceries locally or at a co-op is better than eating out frequently, and so on. I went on to plug in mine, as a comparison, and out of curiosity.

The results put me to shame.

The average American produces roughly 20 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. John’s average was 6.75.  Mine, for my four-bedroom rancher with two cars and two kids, was 25.7!

It’s not like I haven’t been trying. I always recycle paper, plastic and cans. Fifty percent of my light bulbs are energy efficient and I keep my thermostat between 66-68F in winter, as suggested. I shop at Whole Foods and buy organic and local when possible. In the summer I dry my clothes outdoors. I never use bleach or hot water in the washing machine. I try to use public transportation whenever possible. In fact, I was so determined to live green that for my 40th birthday I took a trip to Taos, New Mexico to stay in what is popularly known in the green housing industry as an “earthship.” An earthship is a thermal mass building, which is completely self-sustaining. It has its own contained sewage system, its own solar/wind powered electricity and it’s built of all natural and recycled materials like old tires, bottles, cans and so on. The idea was to gain insight into how I could redesign my own home into a more efficient one.

But the idea of staying in an artistic, earthy and futuristic hut, filled with a greenhouse of banana trees and berry bushes at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains sounded  more ideal than it actually was. The reality was harsh. Because the house is not attached to any electrical grid or community water system, there was the latent feeling of being eerily detached from society’s network of water lines and electric wires. When you are completely off the grid, you alone need to have the resources to sustain your own living. You alone are responsible for what goes wrong. If the sun doesn’t shine for a month straight in the winter, you will be cold. If there’s a draught, you will go without water.

I realized then, that most of us were not taught to be survivalists. That we are almost completely dependant upon “systems.” And that it would not be wrong to say that most of us find strange comfort and security in our connection to power infrastructures.

The idea of living 100% green is not easy. Nor is it possible.   

Most of us could not make the sacrifices that people like John make on a daily basis. We could not give up our televisions, our cell phones, our stereos and the myriad other appliances that have come to represent comfort and necessity. But how do we reconcile technology and advancement with green living? How does “choice” co-exist with “responsibility” to the environment? Perfect green living may not be possible, but progress toward greener living is.

But it takes sacrifice. It takes a lot of effort. It takes changing the way you think and feel about the simplest of things like diet, food shopping, clothes shopping, recreation, relaxation. These have become such a part of our lifestyle that to nudge the thermostat down to 50 degrees would seem, for many of us, nightmarish, an affront to manifest destiny, our natural calling to move forward and perfect living. But taking two steps back in the case of global warming is not exactly what I would call regression. In this case, it’s progress. Conservation is progress.

In order to attempt a greener life there’s an easy path to follow: the more you do for yourself, the less dependent you become on consumerism. This is the key. For example:

  1. Collect your own rainwater for hydrating your plants or washing your car.
  2. Keep your thermostat below 65F and bundle up with blankets instead.
  3. Instead of watching the news at home alone, watch it with friends.
  4. Grow your own fruits and vegetables.
  5. On warm sunny days, dry your laundry outdoors.
  6. Unplug appliances that are not in use (some will continue to eat up energy even if they’re turned off).
  7. Trade or borrow items with neighbors so that you don’t buy a new one.
  8. Eat less meat.
  9. Keep your lights turned off when you’re not using them, and switch all bulbs to energy-savers.
  10. Overall, buy less. The less you buy, the less waste you produce.

If we assign value to each action we take toward greener living, we can change our behavior. We can start to see the importance and the impact we all have on the environment. There’s an old Kenyan proverb: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

Before I left John’s house, I asked him if it takes a lot of effort to live so green. He looked at me as if I had five heads. “I don’t live a certain way to save anything…I live this way because it’s who I am. Because I was taught to live this way. And because I enjoy it.” Unfortunately, nature nor nurture graced me with those same values. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn them. It doesn’t mean it’s OK for me to give up trying a little harder every day to be a better person. 

Resources:

The first step to living green is knowledge.

Global carbon footprint calculator:

www.myfootprint.org

UK carbon footprint calculator:

http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/carboncalc/html/

US carbon footprint calculator:

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html

Other helpful links:

www.motherearthnews.com

http://earthship.net

http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/howmuch.html