SLOWest Energy Conservation Workshop

On Thursday, Nov 8 from 7 to 9 p.m. at MEC, 366 Richmond Road, I’ll be presenting on behalf of Sustainable Living Ottawa West.

The program says I’ll focus on practical ways to reduce energy consumption. To that end I offer below a number of resources that people can use.

But I will be focusing on the practicality of actually motivating people to take action. These days most presentations of this type focus on saving money and I’ll certainly touch on that. Saving money is something that is an immediate reward that is so important to get people to pay attention when it’s so hard to get them to plan out years and decades ahead when the impacts of climate change will actually be at their doorstep and that of their children.

Yet the actual dollar value of savings to be had in the here and now is not particularly large.  Is there another motivator that can get people going with short term rewards? I stumbled across one that I didn’t completely realize was motivating me. I hope it motivates others; here it is.

Sandra Steingraber in her book Raising Elijah writes about her dilemma, then resolution, surrounding how she was going to have “the conversation” with her children. She points out that it’s common for parents to have a tough time talking to their kids about sex, but that the sex story is ultimately a happy story. How do you have the conversation about climate change and species extinction? It doesn’t have a happy ending.

Like the birds and the bees, the climate conversation isn’t just one conversation, it’s a series of conversations and life examples over years. Steingraber relates a story of a retired teacher who had taught during the Cuban missile crisis when so many people were digging back yard bomb shelters. She’d asked her class who among them feared they’d die in a nuclear attack. Every kid put up their hand except one. She asked that one child why she didn’t believe she’d die in a nuclear attack and the child said that her parents were peace activists and they were going to stop it.

So the moral of the story is that we don’t have to know all the answers, we just have to show that we’re trying.

This story has stuck with me because I want my children to know that I’m trying. My kids aren’t little any more, they’re in their latter years at university; they’re too old for hero worship. Yet after one of my kids read the piece in the Kitchissippi Times she wrote to my wife:

I had a dream last night that while you were away on a business trip dad started riding his bike on roofs, like from roof to roof, and it became this phenomenon in Ottawa and it was crazy.

I’m not a phenomenon, but it sure is nice to be one in some unconscious corner of my children’s minds.

And here at last are those practical tips:

In Ottawa roughly 58% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from energy use in buildings. Another 34% comes from transportation. So you might think to target buildings first for energy savings. Yet less than half the energy used in buildings is for heating and cooling so in terms of being the biggest single target, your transportation and commute is likely where changes will net you the biggest savings.

Heating & cooling certainly come next and the conventional sources go straight to better insulation and a more tightly sealed building envelope. My tip is to check that those expensive tight windows you bought are actually closed and locked. I’ve found mine left open a crack more than once; and sometimes for months on end.

The cooling tip applies to avoiding air conditioning in the summer whenever you can. By opening all the windows wide during a cool night, then clamping them tight closed in the morning, the house can often keep quite cool all day without costing you a cent.

I did a major renovation more than 20 years ago and made sure at that time I’d added plenty of insulation and tight seals. Imagine my surprise when I had an energy audit done, in order to qualify for a grant for my new furnace, only to find there were a whole new crop of energy saving opportunities available to me (one was that open window). So the moral of this story is that you can always find a little more room to save.

Walk into any room in your house or think through any moment of your day with this question in mind: what here is using energy and how can I lessen that?

Online resources can be found at:

Scott McKenzie in the past has presented on ways to get to 25% reduction for free, then to 50% using the savings from the first 25%, and then ultimately making investments to get to 80%.

He was kind enough to send me an article (below) that ran in the Peace and Environment News a few years ago. He summarized the approach as follows:

In general, the Get Energy Smart! presentation was all the easy things you can do to save energy without spending money – 25 ways to save 25%.  Here is a summary:

  • Make a plan
    • step 0 – measure your energy use (heating bill, electric bill, gas bill, etc)
    • Step 1 – reduce your consumption without spending money (save 25% – focus of presentation)
    • Step 2 – invest your savings in energy efficiency (save 50% – other presentations)
    • Step 3 – change your lifestyle (save 80%)
  • top 5 GHG activities (driving car, heating home, flying, eating meat, AC)
  • 5 areas of change and 5 simple things to do in each
    • Home heating (turn down heat, cold wash, turn up AC, turn down hot water, low flow fawcets)
    • Electricity (CFL/LED, 2nd fridge, freezer, less dryer, phantom power)
    • Transportation (drive slower, walk/bike, bus, carpool, less idle)
    • Food (less meat, local, garden, less prepared food, no bottled water)
    • Other (vacations, garbage, composting, recycling, gas mower/snowblower)

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One Response to SLOWest Energy Conservation Workshop

  1. Mark Brooks says:

    Great resources as usual Charles. See you on Thursday at MEC! Great that you’re doing this for SLOWest.

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