Turn off your lights Big improvements in energy can start in the dorms

Here at MIT, we’re all about coming up with creative solutions to big problems. It’s just what we do best. But sometimes, it pays to remember that small, simple solutions can add up to solve big problems.

Take energy. Last year, President Obama delivered an address in Kresge that urged the nation’s scientists to follow MIT’s example in pursuing clean energy solutions like wind and solar power; efforts the MIT Energy Initiative has been admirably leading since 2006. But short of developing a revolutionary technology that will power the whole world, students have to do their part to help the planet by cutting back on energy waste. And that means lifestyle changes.

When I lived in MacGregor House, I didn’t really give much thought to how much electricity or heat I used. I was paying a flat semester fee to live in the dorm, and that wouldn’t change regardless of how long I left my lights on or how high I cranked the heat up. Sure, I made sure to turn off my lights when I went to class, but I’m ashamed to admit that was the practical limit of my conservation efforts.

Moving to my own apartment off campus changed my perspective on watching my energy use. And it wasn’t because I was inspired from a re-watching of “An Inconvenient Truth.” It was the money. I’m no longer on the MIT grid, and I no longer have access to basically unlimited supplies of free electricity and steam. Instead, I pay by the kilowatt-hour for every joule I use. Making sure to turn off my lights or unplug my laptop is no longer an intangible contribution to saving the global ecosystem: It’s real dollars that come out of my pocket at the end of every month. And as unfortunate as it may be, in this world, money talks.

The upside is that I’ve cut back drastically on my heat and energy use. I make sure to turn down the thermostat when I leave for class and before I go to bed. I bought energy-saving fluorescent lights and I’m always vigilant about keeping them off when I don’t need them. I even weatherproofed the windows.

This doesn’t make me a saint, but it should say something about wasteful energy use in the dorms. There’s no reason to keep your window open and your heater at maximum in the middle of January. The TV doesn’t need to be on when you’re not even watching it. The world could do without your server and the funny cat pictures it hosts.

Think about how you’d change your habits if dorm fees only covered a finite number of kilowatt-hours of electricity (or therms of gas) per month, and if any usage above that came out of your own pocket. That’s how the real world works, and you should start getting used to it now. You may need to get used to it now as well, as the Institute-wide budget Task Force Report has suggested metering energy use in the dorms. In the future, it’s entirely possible that you actually will need to change your dorm energy habits. But you can feel good about the change, because you’ll be doing your part to save the world. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?

On Campus runs every Friday and features opinions about campus issues.