Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cutting Energy Use

I posted recently about the idea of "regression" - moving away from using so much energy, so that a transition to renewable sources can be made more easily.

How would we do this? How could our society use less energy - in particular, less fossil fuel based energy? This question depends on where one lives, obviously. You need to first understand the energy mix where you live. It's also important where your electricity comes from.

I think there are some pretty low-hanging fruit here in BC. I've posted about lots of them in the past. Have a look at my "energy pie" post, for instance. That's where it's obvious where some major gains could be had. The biggest gains would come from sharply reducing fossil fuel use in the transportation sector.

But clearly, our provincial government is not thinking along these lines at all. And, to be quite honest, neither are most municipal politicians, or probably most citizens. We've just had the new Port Mann bridge open, with 10 lanes - the widest bridge in North America - to enable more oil-based transportation. We will shortly be getting into replacement of the Massey Tunnel - and the plans there are for the same: a huge bridge for cars and trucks. New West is tussling with all the surrounding communities to try to convince them that a 6-lane Patullo is a bad idea, but it's swimming upstream the whole way. At the same time, the Tsawassen First Nation (who apparently have bought into our society's obsession with growth and the automobile) is building two new mega-malls which will be completely dependent on car-based consumers. Then, to top it all off, we're facing a referendum on TransLink funding, which is really being set up to fail. This would be, to put it mildly, a disaster of epic proportions. To be quite blunt, we need to back off on the car-dependence, big time, and invest heavily in public transportation - make it fast, convenient, and cheap.

If you are wondering what you can do about pushing for a more sustainable future, I'd argue that this area is the most important, and the most open to public input. Get out there, activists! I hear Get On Board BC is having an AGM soon, they're looking for help in working for a positive result on that TransLink referendum.

The next big fossil fuel user is heavy industry. That means: mining, cement-making, forestry, pulp mills, paper mills, smelters, etc. These businesses are very sensitive to energy prices and you can bet that they will do everything in their power to reduce costs of doing business. A carbon tax drives efficiencies in this sector, but the tax will be frozen at $30/tonne for the next 4 years. Obviously, it needs to go much higher - probably 2-4 times in the next decade or so - but this is likely not in the cards any time soon. This is, unfortunately, not an area in which Joe Public can do much. This is the jurisdiction of the Province, with lots of input from Big Business. Apparently, the carbon tax will be applied to any LNG burned in the province - which is good news, because the new plants will likely require onsite thermal gas plants to produce the electricity required to compress the LNG for shipping.

Residential energy use is, unfortunately, not an area where we can make big gains, here in urban BC. It is, though, where you can spend a little money to "do your bit", although if you rent, or live in an apartment or condo, you probably can't do much. Any money you spend will be "conscience money", because you likely won't see much of a payoff - the Lower Mainland has such a mild climate and our electricity rates are so low, that the return on investment of changes like these take a long time to realize. But if you want to contribute, think "energy star" all the way: your fridge, your furnace, augmenting or replacing baseboards with a heat-pump ("ductless mini-split"), improving your home's insulation and windows, etc.

What that energy-pie graph doesn't show, though, is the energy embodied in your diet. This is quite large, actually, estimated at 15-20% of your total footprint. You can make surprisingly large reductions by avoiding all beef and fish. You don't have to go totally vegetarian, or even avoid dairy or go organic, for a really sizable effect. And, of course, eat local and in-season. That's good for local farmers.

So there you have it: reduce car use, eat less meat, and help get the "yes" vote out in the upcoming TransLink referendum. Not much, is it? Until the government gets its head out of the sand, that's all we can do.

No comments:

Post a Comment