Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Earth Hour Needs a New Approach

No matter how well thought out something may be when it's first introduced to the world at large, and no matter how popular something might be at the moment of its rollout, the simple fact is that if something sticks around for long enough a majority of people are eventually going to sour on it. It happened to disco, it happened to the Liberal Party of Canada, and I feel like it's in the process of happening now with Earth Hour.

That's not to say it's falling apart already. The City of New Westminster announced yesterday that power consumption dropped by 2.19%, above the provincial average of 1.67% - and though Toronto experienced a 6.8% drop, it was significantly less than the reductions in 2009 and 2010. People worldwide continue to mark the hour, don't get me wrong - still, it feels like the opposition - represented mostly by the Human Achievement Hour "turn everything ON" crowd - may be starting to get more traction.

Sure, at its core Earth Hour is just a gesture, and depending on where you live it might not even make a difference whether you turn your stuff on; most of BC's electricity is generated by renewable sources already. I'll admit that there are problems with it - in addition to "turn off your lights for an hour" literally being the least we can do, it also provides an angle of attack for people who are predisposed to oppose these sort of initiatives anyway. I'd rather have an environmental initiative that didn't lend itself to claims that its backers want to return the world to a medieval lifestyle.

So in that respect, isn't it time to reinvent Earth Hour? People who haven't been reached by it yet probably won't be - I think it's time to take a different tack, to use it to pursue environmental awareness and conservation from another direction.

One that recognizes that the Lower Mainland actually does experience subzero conditions and snowfall.

I've asked around since arriving in British Columbia, and the consensus is clear - at least in the Lower Mainland, when it comes to residential buildings the insulation is shit. I can tell when it's a windy day outside by the way my blinds move in the breeze, even with the window shut. Sure, it's not the first time I've dealt with a poorly-insulated apartment; during my student days in Peterborough, I bedded down in one that was effectively uninhabitable in the winter without space heaters. It may have only got down to 4 or 5 degrees last week while I was keeping my heat off, and even though water doesn't freeze it's still damn cold.

“I’m very proud of our results this year... I look forward to us doing even better in the years to come," New Westminster mayor Wayne Wright said in regard to the city's Earth Hour performance. What I'd rather see is New Westminster becoming an example for lowered energy consumption throughout the year, without the need to turn off lights for an hour. If there's really such interest in environmental initiatives, why not establish a program where the city will provide financial support for residential insulation projects? If it's energy we're concerned about saving, let's fix up our apartments and our houses so that the heat we're pumping out of the radiators doesn't just slip right out the window.

Something like that might well give us more than a 2.19% drop, all on its own.

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