I am deeply taken with the project of Kill-a-watt. There is much to be said for moments of pause, consideration and initiation. I am recalled to the memory of seeds; most recently, I have given a place for a small, waxy kernel to tend upward. I have given some soil for a new, young spruce. Its starlike needles spread, still not so different looking than its delicate, green, soon-to-be trunk. It is in some sense already like what I hope it will be. Even in my dorm room I can try to provide a place of fertility, where needs are met, where the future tallness, wideness, grandness is expected by already-existing hospitality.
Kill-a-watt provides direct challenge to the routines of life which may, without notice, implicate us in different kinds of possible excess. Points are awarded for eating as vegan, vegetarian, forgoing red meat, taking fewer or shorter showers, refusing disposable vessels for food or water, cutting hair very short or refusing to shave, leaving lights off for much of the day, and unplugging appliances when not in use. In addition, resources of all kinds, whether through information and organizations or as practical as biodegradable soaps are incentivized and made more widely available.
What I love in this is how it provides a point of union, no matter where one might stand among the ecological issues and discussions currently in the foreground of our political life. How does it do so? I have found that it gives an opportunity to really localize and personalize responsibility by pointing out specific things on which to meditate, then act. By this I mean that above all, Kill-a-watt is about individuals taking time to concern themselves with effects which extend beyond them—and it does this not strictly by endorsing a certain view of humankind, the environment, or redemption. Rather, the extent of its project, the purpose of its request, is highly particular (though still informed by more general, universal, and often theological and scientific interests). It asks, challenges, enjoins: how are you in respect to those things you draw upon for life?
I mean to express here that the simple logic which backgrounds our ideas of too much versus too little—that is, the idea of Goldilocks, of moderation—articulates and grounds the project of Kill-a-watt. It ought to be immediately apparent that there are times for feasting and for fasting, times for rejoicing and lament, but that the majority of our lives is likely caused by some circumstance to be lived as joy drawn out, as the betweenness, the middle space, among accidental extremities (those parts of life that happen to us, that we would not necessarily choose or expect). This is to say that some aspects of our lives are in some sense incidentally what human lives ought mostly to be: lived in the gentle middle, the span between love and loss, happiness and sorrow, plenty and little.
Yet, among those things in which we do have much choice, in food, apparel, housing, landscaping, energy and other ways of accomplishing the satisfaction of irreducible needs, we frequently find ourselves by the strength of the accessible in the grip of the immoderate: that which is easy but land-hungry; that which is efficient but dangerous; that which is easily monetized but withdraws unquantifiable, difficultly-replaced beauty; that which here works well, but downstream destroys. Such things are powerfully present with us today. The marvelous luxury we enjoy gives us reason to most often feast. Against this, balancing this, within this time of Kill-a-watt, I find myself curious about the planting, cultivation, harvest, storage, preparation and administration of what I need and enjoy as I sit here at the top of the table.
I find myself wanting to fast, that is, to explore the other end on which a life of moderation is also and necessarily tensioned. Kill-a-watt, handled reflectively, demands one ask of ones own circumstance: am I in balance, do I weigh as I should on the things which give into my life for my own well-being? Is that life I live reverent for those things, glad for them, of the kind of gratitude which returns to pursue the beauty, safety, health and protection of my sources for livelihood? As I am replete with good things, do I yet deplete the world?
And how might I help others to the same, who may even more than I be placed in unwitting or unwilling dependence on aggressive practices which do not look long ahead?
Jean Vanier speaks of a lost kind of human touch, one that is neither "sexual nor aggressive." Translated into our position concerning the other things in the world, I wonder for myself what a relationship with those kinds of life which are not human would be, were I to pursue it neither for the highest possible count of pleasure, nor for an attempt to get absolutely whatever at whatever cost, as quickly as possible, under the anxiety of profit.
There must be time of great use according to great, essential need. Yet Kill-a-watt grants a special condition for viewing the contrast case, the time in which we are very well met. It motivates through personal, practical and simple opportunities to act with moderation and reduction where possible, that we would be toward a world which reflects our care and attention. To close, this balance named by the artist Makoto Fujimura: