There's a great little place on Queen St., a bit west of Dufferin, called Cafe Taste, where you buy wine and they supply a plate of cheese that's selected to compliment the drink. Sunday nights, they also show films, usually with an environmental bent -- not surprising, since owner Jeremy Day is trying to make the cafe as green as possible. He even recycles the little aluminum candle cups. With the movies, he says, "we're doing what we can to reach out and shake things up."
I was there a couple of weeks ago to see a PBS documentary on climate change. It covered all the bases, with billions of pixels devoted to shots of belching smokestacks and raging storms.
These days, I'm far more focused on solutions than on adding to the warnings about what climate change will do to the planet and to us. Fear isn't a great motivator for long-term change.
This movie was long -- two hours -- a series of talking heads that made it seem the only people involved in the issue are white males between 45 and 65 (but that's another story.) The main thing is that it raised all the potential answers, and then showed how none would work. In the end, the message was, we have to wait with our fingers crossed for some new miracle technolgoy, like giant (pie-shaped) mirrors high in the sky) to come along.
One of the things trashed -- and in about 15 seconds -- was the idea of conservation. It seems that it involves wearing a sweater, and that's too difficult so forget it. Unfortunately, that's a pretty common idea. And it's wrong. After covering the environment for years, I've concluded that conservation -- simply finding ways to use less energy and resources -- appears to be the one thing with a chance of success. But we have to go at it with enthusiasm and imagination. Some of the steps depend on new technology, but a lot are simply being smarter and less wasteful, not to mention learning from the past.
That's what this blog is about. Ideas and experiences. What works, and what doesn't.
At my place, a downtown rowhouse, three people, we've cut our Hydro bill be more than half without changing anything about how we live -- which means there's still a long way to go. Some of the stuff -- like a new furnace and windows -- was expensive, but the main change wasn't. We replaced an electric water heater with a natural gas model, and turned down the temperature a little. Since both heaters are rentals, there was very minimnal upfront cost, and the increase in gas use is a tiny fraction of the previous electricity consumption.
Long lists of these types of things are availalbe. For a start, try the Conservation Council of Ontario's Weconserve web site.
I'm also interested in bigger-scale projects, because we won't stop climate change with small, piecemeal actions like the one's I've taken. They're important, but not nearly enough. How can we construct houses and other buildings better, so they use little or no energy? How can we change the forces that continue to promote urban sprawl? I love things like the home being built by David and Cathy Braden, near Hamilton, which doesn't need a furnace and will use only about 15 per cent as much energy as the average house. Or others that I've heard of since I wrote about the Bradens last month. Or, potentially, the skyscraper, to be unveiled next week, that's supposed to do everything a tree does -- generate its own energy, create soil, support life -- except reproduce itself. Or the communities in Germany that produce more energy than they consume. Or the house in Thailand covered with paint that cools the surface enough that every day 80 litres of water condenses out of the air to be used for washing and toilets. It's described in Chris Turner's book, The Geography of Hope.
So, I aim to present, and I hope you'll add, ideas big and small, that are different and workable. What have you tried? What happened? What would you like to see? How can we make that happen?
Next up for me will be that tree-skyscraper-tree. Okay, soon up. Another challenge is coming first.
-- Peter Gorrie