“You look better with the lights off” — admittedly, the catchy chorus of this terrible pop song is not the most lyrically tasteful, but it may be sending just the message I’m trying to deliver. While some may argue that turning the lights off in the bedroom is an act of intimacy, I think there’s another implicit message in the lyrics — one that relates to the environmental impact of our obsession with energy. Sure, we’ve all heard the spiel from our parents to turn the lights off when we leave a room, but what is the real significance of that action?

Electricity is created by the burning of coal and oil, which causes air and light pollution that negatively affect our health, economy and ecosystems. Consider the cost of leaving your TV, computer and electronics plugged in: At a current price of $0.13 per kilowatt hour of use, you’re simply throwing money away by leaving your electronics on and plugged in. Contrary to popular belief, turning off your electronics does not eliminate their draw on the electric grid. In order to completely stop a device from using any electricity, you must unplug it. So when your phone is being charged, about four watts of electricity are used, while the charger alone uses about one watt. If you leave your phone charger plugged in 24/7, like the majority of college students do, that one watt that’s being drawn for say 18 hours a day (while your phone charges for six), seven days a week, for the 33 weeks we’re in school equates to 4,158 unnecessarily used watts. This equates to about $5 a person per school year, and over the course of four years amounts to $20, which may not seem like much, but who wouldn’t want to be $20 richer? And if you estimate that the approximate 20,000 students in I.V. all leave their chargers plugged in while their phones aren’t charging, the cost is over $100,000 in one school year (not counting summer or the six hours per day each phone is charging). There is a lot of money that could be saved if we were to simply unplug.

Not only are our phone chargers sucking our wallets dry, but our computers, microwaves, toasters and DVD players are all contributing to a phantom draw that we can avoid. In light of the residence hall energy and water competition happening Feb. 6 to 20, I encourage all of you (even if you don’t live in the residence halls) to unplug your appliances and turn off the lights when not in use. The benefits are not only cleaner air due to decreased pollution and more money in your bank account, but the residence hall that saves the most energy also has a chance to win their savings equivalent in prizes — in the past, those have included longboards, a MacBook Pro, reusable water bottles, UCSB Bookstore gift cards and the notoriety of being the most eco-friendly dorm on campus. To be eligible to win prizes, you must register (it takes five seconds) at www.ucsbgreencampus.com. That being said, I encourage you to “Do It in the Dark” because we all know it’s better with the lights off.

Lauren Barnum is a second-year environmental studies major and a Green Campus Program intern.

[media-credit name=”Natalie O” align=”aligncenter” width=”250″][/media-credit]