Monday, January 3, 2011

40 Gallons of Guilt

I woke up two months ago to a soggy garage and a cold shower. At some point the day before, sensing the expiration of its 6-year warranty, my water heater ruptured and sent a stream of water trickling down its electrical panel and onto the floor. For almost three weeks, my family and I took lukewarm showers heated only by what little time the unit could run before shorting out and tripping the breaker on the nearby panel. Yes, in my household, preventing electrical fires ranks a paltry second behind a comfortable bath.

My extended family wondered why, after three weeks, I hadn’t addressed the problem. Clearly we needed to buy a new water heater, as the old tank was leaking badly and well beyond repair. I knew the drill-- as a homeowner for ten years I've had many occassions to replace large appliances. The process has always been the same: quickly find the unit to meet your needs, order, and move along to the next fire that needs dousing.

But lately, a guilty pang in my conscience nags me to deliberate at length over these decisions. After all, the past year has certainly provided ample reasons to reflect. Its been almost a year now since 29 miners lost their lives in a Massey Energy coal mine in West Virginia. Cleanup efforts still continue after millions of barrels of crude oil marred the vibrant waters of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. And closer to my Miami home, Florida Power and Light has proposed constructing two new nuclear reactors on the shores of Biscayne Bay.

And who's to blame for the developments of the past year? Me. I, like so many, have become an unstoppable incarnation of PacMan-- gobbling up every available power pellet to fuel my laptop, iPhone, GPS, flood lights, LCD television, Nintendo Wii, baby monitors, ceiling fans, electric razor, and Roomba. Sure, I pay for my gluttony every month in the bills I receive, but does that truly reflect the cost of the energy that flows so freely through my circuitry? I suspect there are some in West Virginia and the Gulf that might disagree.

As my old electric water heater departs in the cold embrace of the grim reaper, I am haunted again by a pang of guilt urging me to remember the events of 2010. Perhaps, on the eve of the new year, it is time for a new resolution...

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