Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
In the words of the immortal 80’s cheesy band Loverboy… “Don’t look now, but guess who’s hit the big time!” Yes, I have arrived. I can now stroke this off my bucket list. I was second in line in a processional that was “piped in” by a bagpiper. My mother’s maiden name was Mickelthwaite which I believe is Irish, but I just lump all those northern British Island countries in together so it could be Scottish, and whatever my heritage, there is something quite stirring about a bagpipe. As a kid I read a lot of stories about war and so I have come to associate the sound of bagpipes with war and valor and sacrifice, stuff I’m not sure I necessarily agree with now.
I was asked to speak to the Morrisburg and District Canadian
Club, and it turns out that the speaker gets to not only sit at the head table,
but also be in the processional. Quite an occasion I must say. Thank heavens I
dug out a tie for the event. What’s weird is that I haven’t sung the Canadian
National Anthem in years and now I’ve sung it twice in a week. Last week I
spoke to the Kingston Rotary Club. I like to sing the anthem, but I admit I
kind of drop my volume when I get to the sections where they’ve changed the
Speaking to the Rotary Club and the Canadian Club are a bit of a challenge for me in terms of promoting renewable energy and sustainability. The audience members tend to be older and while I have my fair share of grey hair, I feel like a teenager at these events. I meet amazing people and hear amazing stories. And I get a unique perspective on the world. These groups would be considered very conservative, or republican for my America readers. And that’s a good thing. They’ve worked hard all their lives and have developed this perspective over time. Trying to convince them to install solar panels is a challenge. In fact, I find a deal great of resistance to renewable energy, especially large scale like the large solar and wind farms being built in Ontario. All I can do is be as diplomatic as possible about how I think the vision of a grid powered by a number of sources, hydro, nuclear, gas, wind, solar, etc. is going to much more resilient in the future.
Our province gets 50% of its electricity from nuclear plants, so nuclear isn’t going anywhere soon. It is very expensive. And our nuclear plants, which ran up 10s of billions of dollars worth of debt that we’re only now starting to pay off, are getting old. The owners of nuclear plants don’t have to pay insurance on them because no company will cover a nuclear plant. After Fukushima in Japan and Chernobyl we all know why. The y also don’t have to pay to decommission them and they don’t have to pay to dispose of the waste permanently. If all these costs were incorporated into ratepayers’ electricity bills, everyone would realize that nuclear is just too expensive. Yet the media loves to call green energy expensive. This is because people who invest in green energy have to pay for everything themselves. They pay for insurance, they pay to purchase the equipment, and they pay for maintenance. All that electricity users pay for is the electricity they generate. From a “conservative”, small government, free enterprise perspective, this is the only way we should be producing power. Delicately explaining this is another story.
I do spend a lot of time talking about solar domestic hot water and geothermal heating. In Ontario almost 75% of a homeowner’s energy consumption is used to heat the home and hot water. So while putting up solar panels for electricity is cool, from an environmental or carbon offset perspective though, it’s the wrong approach. You need to stop burning so much home heating oil, or natural gas or propane. In both of the talks I had people stand up during the question period and rave about the geothermal heating systems they’ve installed. You can’t get better validation than that. One gentleman said he had to stay home from Florida one winter and his electricity bills were $900/month since he heated with baseboard heaters. Installing geothermal was an easy decision for him.
Many of the members of these groups have children and grandchildren. So I’ve tried to frame their investment in these carbon-offsetting technologies as a gift to their grandkids. I know their temptation is to buy them “stuff”, or maybe take them to Disneyworld. I’m suggesting that the day the backhoe is over digging up their lawn to install their ground source heat pump they get the grandkids over. Grandkids might think the machines are pretty cool. But ultimately they need to explain to them that they’re doing this because they want to burn less carbon emitting fossil fuels and keep that carbon out of the atmosphere. This is the kind of stuff kids get. Or will get as they older. Many of us have memories of our grandparents. I think showing your grandkids you love them by investing in a carbon saving technology is something that will stick with them. The fact that long term these systems will pay for themselves many times over is something you can keep to yourself.
Many people at these talks are going to vote conservative. They all want to maintain the status quo. But I sense that most of them understand now that the status quo, business as usual thing doesn’t bode well for future generations. According to a recent poll in Canada if just the people over 65 years of age voted we’d have a Conservative majority. But if just people 25 years of age and under voted we’d have a Green Party majority. Younger people know the importance of changing the way we do things radically to have an inhabitable planet in the future. And their parents and grandparents love those younger people. They cannot express that love by voting for the status quo. It’s not working. And I shall continue to try and tactfully introduce this perspective to as many people of this generation as I can. And if they let me walk in a processional to the head table lead by a bag piper, well, sign me up for this a full time job. If this keeps up I’m going to need a kilt. I’m off to Value Village to see what I can find.
Photo by ray zhou from hong kong, china (Cape Town, SA) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons