Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Morning After

After months of anticipation and preparation, Earth Hour has arrived on Saturday, March 29th. All told, millions individuals, businesses and cities around the globe turned off their lights for one hour.

What began in 2007, as Sydney, Australia's attempt to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions became a global phenomenon in 2008. Clearly it was an idea whose time has come.

While it's critical not to diminish how important it is that we finally recognized the need for action on climate change, there are a couple of nagging questions that need to be answered. Why this and why now? And then there's the much bigger question, what next? We've known for decades that we need to address the issue of climate change. For years we've attempted to reach some kind of global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whether through the Kyoto Protocol or some other regulatory framework. Most recently we've Gorified Big Al and given him two of mankind's greatest honors - the Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award - all for his efforts to educate us about the need for action on climate change.

Despite all this, it's pretty much been business as usual. It's much easier to give other people awards for doing the right thing than it is take responsibility for our own actions. As a result, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has continued to rise unabated because we continue to use energy like there is no tomorrow.

My self-titled grumpy husband Brian dubbed Earth Hour "Earth Day for ADHD sufferers". If Andy Warhol were alive today, no doubt he would have made some statement about our heroic efforts to extend our allotted fifteen minutes of fame to an entire hour in order to save the planet.

I'm a little more optimistic. I think Earth Hour captured our imaginations because it gave us a focal point. It's like making New Year's resolutions. We all know that we need to change, but sometimes we need a designated starting point - whether it is a specific date or even a specified hour. It gives us a fresh start and an opportunity to gather up the courage and the will power to actually make the changes necessary - whether it's a New Year's resolution to quit smoking, or an hour to think about how we use energy.

Which leads to the final question. Despite all the hoopla, the candlelit dinners and the gatherings around the fireplace with family and friends, the only thing that really matters is what happens after Earth Hour. I think that's the point Brian's trying to make.

It isn't going to be easy. We are all energy addicts. In the absence of a neighborhood chapter of EAA (Energy Addicts Anonymous), or any enforceable legislation or agreements to make us reduce our energy consumption, we need to come up with a concrete plan to fundamentally change how we live our lives.

For starters, let's embrace the obvious. Turn off lights - not just for an hour, but whenever they are not essential. I recently spent an overnight in downtown Toronto and was shocked by the number office buildings that left their lights on throughout the night. Most notably, the Scotia Bank Tower had every floor fully lit. Last weekend my family was again driving through Toronto on Saturday evening, this time on the 401. The Ontario Ministry of Health building (located near Weston Road) had every single light switched on. I have never seen a building so completely illuminated. It's had to believe that this is the same government that's championing energy conservation.

Secondly, like other addicts, get help. If you can't figure out how to cut your energy consumption, find someone who can. Have an energy audit done on your home and your business. Once you've established a baseline, set targets and stick to them.

Thirdly, think outside the box. One of the reasons that Earth Hour so successfully captured everyone's imagination is that turning off lights at night produces an immediate visual result. Unfortunately, lighting only accounts for about a quarter of our energy consumption. Close to two-thirds of the energy used within the municipal infrastructure is actually used to pump water. Replacing your toilets, showerheads and faucets with water efficient models has the potential for greater savings than changing light bulbs, particularly when you factor in the energy that’s needed to heat water. And that's just for starters.


Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency

Ontario’s Energy Conservation Bureau


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally. Someone takes big business and big government to task for not doing their part in turning off the lights. Even the GO Trains that are parked during off-hours just west of the Henry St. bridge in Whitby seem to always have their interior lights on. Ironic, because the GO Train is supposedly a green alternative

April 02, 2008 12:34 PM  

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