Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eliminating disease agents

In my last blog I wrote about how clean air and surfaces (especially beds and upholstery) is better for our health. This is even more true for children due to their emerging immune system and small lungs.

This last week I have been introduced to the amazing world of essential oils. Of course, like many people, I've heard about them. What grabbed my attention, leading me to purchasing one in particular, is the ancient wisdom linking health with these essential oils.

The product I purchased is a blend of several essential oils. This manufacturer calls this combination "thieves oil", named after some thieves in Spain who were able to remain healthy even though they were raiding the graves of people who had died from the black plague.

Because many of our homes have some degree of mould (we do, after all, live in a rain forest climate) sealing up our homes and offices for the sake of energy efficiency, mould and other biological contaminants can -and do- negatively affect our health. Colds, flu's, asthma, allergies, lethargy, itchy throats and eyes, and more can be symptoms of these naturally-occurring beasties. Clean air is the most important measure. Heat recovery ventilators (HRV's), especially when coupled with electronic air filters (NOT ozone filters) are wonderful. Getting outside for fresh air is cheaper! And so is using natural, high quality, essential oils. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

When it comes to living life meaningfully and healthily the air we breathe is essential. Maybe this is why they call these natural oils "essential."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Energy and indoor air quality

Until the last three decades most houses and other buildings leaked so much that air quality was not a concern. As we have attempted to save energy by sealing them up we have begun to create other problems associated with poor indoor air quality. Indoor air quality is very important, since we now spend nearly 90% of our lives indoors!

What most of us fail to understand is that indoor air quality is almost always worse indoors than it is out. Health Canada calculates that our indoor air can be 6 to ten times worse than it is outside.

Likely due to the fact we (including children) spend most of our time indoors, we are seeing huge increases in asthma. Asthma prevalence from birth to 19 years in Canada has increased 4-fold in the last 2-3 decades. It continues to rise, particularly in kids ages 8-11 years. It’s estimated that 1 out of 6 children in Canada suffers from asthma.

What is so ailing us? The list of pollutants in our homes is lengthy.
1) Man-made: Over 80 various chemicals are found in most of our homes. These chemicals are not only from cigarettes (that list alone is impressive with its toxicity). Chemicals are being released from most carpets, upholstery, beds, flooring, finishes, paints, most cleansers, and a host of other sources.
2) Natural: while we on Vancouver Island don't have to worry much about radon gas, mould, dust (1.1 billion particles breathed in each day) and especially dust-mite feces are toxic.

The solutions are several. Get rid of toxic cleansers (see these suggestions). We can waste energy and feel uncomfortable by opening windows and doors or run bathroom fans all the time, adding fresh air intakes to our furnaces and heat pumps, adding a heat recovery ventilator, or invest in equipment that truly cleans the air and surfaces.

Opening doors and windows certainly helps, but isn't very practical in the winter. Running fans is rather wasteful of energy. Fresh-air ducts work, but only when the furnace is running. Only the last two are truly effective, especially if a high-quality vacuum cleaner is used, one that captures all of the dust. (Most vacuum cleaners spew over 90% of the dust right back into the air.)

The most important surfaces that require cleaning are where dust and the associated dust-mite feces live: our beds, upholstery, and carpets. High-quality air filters are also vital.

It is no surprise that we usually feel better when we go for a walk in nature. This is our body's way of telling us that we need time for reflection and exercise. It may very well also be its way to tell us that we need more fresh air.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Urban farming is illegal?

To people living in the mid-island area of Vancouver Island, Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw's urban (well, mostly rural) 2.5 acre Compassion Farm was created with the hard work of rebuilding the top-soil by hand! (The previous owner stripped all the top-soil off, leaving the gravel sub-surface). Due to a complaint by a neighbour the municipality has ordered them to stop growing food. (See a local newspaper or the Nanaimo blog for the scoop.)

Many other cities are realising the importance of urban gardening, and have changed the bylaws to allow for such operations. Not true here! Despite the fact that only about 5% of our food on the entire island is grown locally (down from 60% just a few decades back). We would soon starve if a natural or political disaster were to strike. Our food security is not secure.

It is strange that while homeowners can have home-based businesses, those who grow food cannot make it into a business, unless they are able to afford the very expensive (and increasingly harder to find) agricultural land. Farmers have discovered that they cannot compete with the subsidised foods of the world, and Canada is quickly losing ground in terms of self-sufficiency.

It is the Dirk's and Nicol's of the world who work for about $2/hour to bring us the best, most nutritious, least carbon-intensive food of the world. We owe them our gratitude and support.

If you wish to join the effort to change the bylaws you can join the Facebook group ("Compassion Farm") or write a letter to Lantzville's council.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Transportation Forum

Just over a week ago our non-profit (Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island) hosted a sustainable transportation forum. With about 100 people participating, 2 key-note speakers, 9 panelists, and a really engaged group, it was a great event!

Those participating recognised the fact that especially in our region we are totally dependent on the automobile to get around. Our communities have been designed around the car. Cyclists don't feel safe. Transit (while improving) is not adequate. Greyhound keeps on cutting back its service. One cannot get a taxi at the local ferry terminal. Cars costs us an average of $8K or more (that's close to minimum wage, after taxes)!

People picked up the notion that we need to design our cities and municipalities differently. We need to have more densely populated areas near the arteries, roads that have lots of public transit. We need to cut back on the sprawl. We have lots of land in the current city boundaries! We can be far more intelligent in the way we live and move around.

Being sucked into spending huge sums of money (individually and through our local taxes) to continue the current unsustainable system has to end. Maybe then we will begin to talk to our neighbours, rather than zoom past them! Maybe then we will begin to get back into shape and save the beleaguered health care system from certain demise.

The possibilities are limitless!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Community in action

This evening I had the honour of chairing a meeting of interested community people wanting us to set up our own car (time) share co-op. What an enthusiastic bunch, even when we had to slog through the major decisions in the incorporation document! I'm inspired.

You may be asking what a car share co-op is. It's like the old family car being shared between several drivers, each using the car for his or her own purpose, as needed or wanted. Expenses are (at least in theory!) shared between those family members.

In a community-run and owned co-op the cost of operating the vehicles is shared between the members. The more they drive the vehicles the greater share of the cost they incur. If they don't use the car that month, they pay nothing.

All the hassles of operating a vehicle are taken care of by the co-op. The cost of depreciation is shared. Insurance is shared. So is the car loan. As a result very significant savings are realised.

What's also wonderful is that without one's own car sitting in the driveway people are far more likely to use public transit, cycling, walking, car pooling, and making sure that when they do have the car they make maximum usage of it. As a result car share members are usually in better physical and emotional shape, are more community-oriented (and benefit as such), help to support public transit (which, in turn, adds more frequency to their schedules), greatly reduces the number of vehicles on the road, and far more.

Everyone but the car-related companies benefits.

Going back to the meeting, it just goes to show how a committed bunch of people can bring about positive changes. Indeed, as Margaret Mead pointed out, this is about the only way positive change does occur.

A toast to people working together!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Renovating energy wisely

This week I have done two energy assessments on homes that are currently being extensively renovated. What a treat to be a part of their planning, one that will save them a great deal of energy and provide greater comfort.

The first home was a 1921 home, or more correctly, two 1920's homes that were combined into one. This heritage home will have extensive work done on the basement, will be replacing the old oil furnace with an air-air heat pump (they couldn't afford to go for the in-floor radiant heat, which would have been a much superior option, especially if an air-water heat pump was connected to it).

They are removing the inefficient fireplace and installing a wood stove. Trying to move that heated air from one part of the house to another was examined.

The owner likes the old windows, especially the leaded one. Problem is that virtually all of the windows are single pane. After they seal up the major air leaks and put some more insulation in the attic those windows will be the #1 heat loss.

Solution? She is a sewer, and plans on making thick curtains for those windows. Lining them with a product that contains aluminum foil would give them even more night-time energy efficiency, as radiant heat movement accounts for more than half of all energy loss in clear windows. (If you want to know more about this unique curtain liner, do ask me.)

She liked the idea of installing heat drain recovery pipes while renovating the bathrooms. This one change (costing less than $2000) will save them more than 10% in their total heating bills!

These and other plans are going to save them well over half of the existing energy costs, and make them more comfortable and able to stay warm even during power outages. All because they are incorporating energy upgrades while renovating their lovely home.

It pays to be wise.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wrapping it up

On Monday a plumber and I replaced an ailing hot water tank with a new electric tank, and super-wrapped it.

No, it wasn't a Christmas gift, although the money the homeowner will save will be enough to add a gift or two under the tree every year.

What we did was to make that new tank significantly more energy efficient, especially compared to the old tank. In fact research reveals that super-insulating a tank will make it nearly as efficient as a "water-on-demand" heater! Not only is this method considerably less expensive than a water-on-demand heater one does not need natural gas or propane, thus reducing pollution, greenhouse gases, and the expense and danger associated with gas.

The most neglected part of insulating a hot water tank is that many of them sit on uninsulated, cold (and often damp) basement floors. Heat from the tank radiates in all directions, including down into that slab and, beyond it, mother earth. We put an R-10 barrier underneath the new tank, resulting in considerable energy savings right there. And the cost to do so was only about $15.

We finished off the project by insulating both the hot and cold water pipes going into the tank since those pipes otherwise radiate a lot of heat.

The total cost of super-wrapping a tank is only $200, including labour. Smart homeowners and renters can do it for half this price, saving that cost, and more, every year.

Wrapping it up. A great gift to oneself, and the planet!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Transportation is key

I have just returned from a week of cycling around a few of our beautiful Gulf Islands, a great way to holiday! Here I get to slow down, ponder, reflect, experience nature, see far more than do people in automobiles, and get into shape!

While on Salt Spring Island I took public transportation to Victoria and back so that I could do a little business. It was a snap, and I was able to read a book en-route.

A writer to a local newspaper by the name of "J. Sharpe" keeps on advocating a complete reliance on automobiles, claiming that it costs too much to repair the railway and that bicycles and public transportation are not "viable."

Sadly we, through our governments, pay a very heavy price for the convenience of the private automobile -not only through taxes that subsidise the roads, hospitals, environmental destruction and even the extraction of fossil fuels(!), but we also pay hugely through greatly reduced physical and social well-being.

I have come to the conclusion that our collective and individual addiction to convenience, the "easy life", avoidance of nature (why is rain such a terrible thing to avoid?) and the consuming of the planet is quickly leading us to a premature death -individually and collectively.

If we plan on staying on this planetary home for much longer it is high time we moved away from the private automobile except whenever necessary (car pooling and car time-sharing are but two alternatives).

Dedicated bicycle paths have made a huge difference in Victoria, where the percentage of commuters travelling by bicycle is more than 20 times that of Nanaimo and other communities north of the Malahat.

Denser populations make car sharing, car pooling, public transportation, walking and cycling much more doable.

We need to collectively push our governments into more sustainable, livable, and affordable ways of living and travelling.

And we need to lead by example.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The true cost

It has been argued that the current downturn in the economy, one that came close to becoming another depression, was caused by higher (fossil fuel) energy prices and the drive for short-term profits by corporations. There is likely a great deal of truth to both.

The solutions, of course, are in switching government subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, adding carbon taxes to energy sources that are not renewable, and in restructuring the investment community so that it takes a longer view.

I note that these two destructive factors are strongly at work in the general population, not only amongst investors and corporate heads. When it comes to energy conservation/efficiency and renewable energy the question is always asked "what is the pay-back period?" This question is never asked when deciding to update one's kitchen, buying a car, and the like. People want to know how affordable it is to them, not what the energy savings are going to be, nor how much more energy secure they are going to be.

A very innovative funding program in the U.S. has recently been closed down because the mortgage companies were not convinced that homeowners paying less for energy are less likely to foreclose on their mortgages. The long-term viability of operating a home has been sacrificed for the short-term.

Homeowners here are usually far more concerned about borrowing more money, even when it can be shown that the reduced energy costs would pay for those borrowing costs. And once the loan is paid off then they would have more disposable income.

Unless we learn from lessons provided to us from "the great recession" we are far more likely going to repeat it. If we do learn then we can have improved financial security, a better environment, and a future for our children/grandchildren.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vancouver Island University moves forward

I am pleased to see that the local university is working at improving the bus access to its Nanaimo campus, increasing the number of buses that can be there at any one time as well as the speed at which the buses can get on and off campus.

As 70% of our local greenhouse gases (and, likely, pollution) come from the transportation sector these kinds of improvements make a real difference. One of many they have made in the last five years.

Also of note is the fact they have discovered the abandoned and water-filled coal mines situated under their Nanaimo campus contain a great deal of water warmed by the core of the earth, a large source of heating for their buildings! Such will go a long way to reducing their energy costs, not to mention pollution and greenhouse gases. Congratulations to them!

You can read the whole article at the Nanaimo News Bulletin on-line.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being weird

I'm weird.

No, I don't mean socially isolated, inept, strange, or even curious. I'm "weird" because I don't own a car.

According to "normal" I don't have much of an identity without one. I'm backward, too poor, too young, or simply not "with it." Many people have difficulty knowing what to say to me other than some niceties such as "good for the environment, eh?" People who care about me worry about my safety. That's okay, I worry about their health, since those who mostly get around by car are usually in poor physical condition, are more likely to suffer from depression, illness, a much higher risk of disease (heart, lungs, and pretty well everything else) and more.

Not owning a car also means having a lot more money in my jeans. I save thousands every year, about the equivalent of a half-time job at minimum wage (after taxes).

In order to qualify to be "weird" one has to rearrange one's life so as to live near work (as about half of us already do), perhaps have groceries delivered, arrange rides, take transit (I use the time "wasted" reading, meditating, visiting, etc.), and use the car (time-) share co-op.

With about 70% of the greenhouse gases coming from transportation (the majority of this from single occupancy vehicles) the "convenience" of the car is not only killing us and our pocketbooks, it is killing the planet. Everyone loses in the end.

Since I spend more time with people, get more exercise and fresh air, and my life is slower and more meaningful, the quality of my life is immeasurably better.

So, go ahead, call me "weird." My friends still love me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Solutions to greenhouse gases

This last week the provincial government released its semi-annual Community energy and Emissions inventory (CEEI). The mid-island area has some challenges ahead!

While Nanaimo and area are doing better than the province as a whole, this isn't difficult considering that the population density of most of the province is very low. When we instead compare ourselves to similarly-sized cities such as Victoria proper (population 81,000), Saanich (pop 112,000), Kamloops (pop 93,000, and Chilliwack (pop 81,000) to that of Nanaimo's (pop 81,000) our per-capita output was the worst.

Fully 70% of these emissions come from motor vehicles. While we often excuse ourselves because of the stretched-out city and poor public transportation, the reality is that fully half of us commute fewer than 5 kilometres (3 miles) by car or light truck! While some of us need our vehicles at work, the vast majority have made such things as time, convenience, and laziness our priorities.

What is of particular interest to me is that the cost of operating these vehicles (over $10,000 per year) results in people screaming about their taxes, failing to invest in energy savings in their homes, buying local food, and other activities that make our planet and pocketbooks more sustainable.

What will it take to make the necessary changes? Some ideas being tried include: charging vehicle insurance per KM, road taxes based on usage, much higher fuel taxes, closure of downtowns to motor vehicles, far more committed bicycle lanes (separated from vehicles and pedestrians), the Car Share Coop (two vehicles in Nanaimo), and vastly improved public transportation.

Without acting now we will continue to see our current problems multiply. Shifting away from single occupancy vehicle use will create rewards of all kinds -better physical and emotional health, improved finances, better air quality, improved work and school performance, and a planet worth inheriting.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nanaimo's latest "Greenhouse"

Yesterday the public was invited to see a house under construction in Nanaimo that is being built by the local chapter of the Home Builder's Association using volunteer labour and materials.

It is intended to be a platinum rated Built Green home. This program (and its predecessor, the R-2000 program) have helped to give builders the training and hands-on experience of how to improve a house's energy performance by 20 - 40% over the older homes.

A local reporter privately told me he was rather disappointed with how "green" the house was. He had overheard me ask if they were going to use waste-water heat recovery. (They aren't planning it.) Why would they not want to recover over a third of the energy invested in heating the hot water, especially when it can be done for less than $1000? A very good question.

They are also using windows that don't perform as well as a truly green building needs, and are using forced air heating. And no heat recovery ventilation. Soon this will be required in all new homes.

I know that there are real cost barriers involved in adding any of these better options, and that the purpose is to showcase some of the things they are doing (such as sealing it up well) before selling it to raise money for the home builder's headquarters in Victoria.

As electricity prices rise close to 10% per year for the foreseeable future the homeowner will be glad for what they did do, but may be disappointed that their home, for an additional $10K - $20K, could end up costing them half as much to heat and cool.

The next generation of "green" homes will do this, and even more.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Money as energy

A post I wrote a few days ago was also about money. Why again? Because our use of money is the only thing standing between a sustainable world and a destroyed world.

Money is a vehicle for both "good" and "bad." Similarly water is necessary for life, but we can also drown in it.

I have often associated money with greed, unethical business men, debt, misuse of power, consumerism, and all sorts of terrible things. And yet money is required in order to live. So, like many others, I have had a rather conflicted attitude toward it.

By thinking about money as being energy, a force that can be used well or destructively, I have been able to shift my relationship with it.

All matter is energy in various forms. The vast majority of money is digital; daily trillions of dollars of it is traded, exchanged, given away, stolen, and the like. It has a huge life force, as it can make a company successful, a family able to live well, or it can bring an entire nation to its knees.

The only difference is whether it is being used as an instrument of greed, power, selfishness, something to be afraid of, or whether it is used as an instrument of goodwill and unselfish desire. The former enslaves us; the latter frees us (and the planet).

When people ask me what the "payback period" might be for some energy upgrade, while feeling quite content to replace a carpet or kitchen (infinite payback period), it is likely that they are fearful of wasting their money. When they instead use money as an instrument for good in the world, one that pays them and the planet back, making both sustainable, then they are freeing themselves.

When I first read the sentence "Money is God in action" (Raymond Charles Barker) I balked. Yet knowing that Jesus was quoted more often about money than on any other subject, believing that God (or Spirit) is an ultimate form of energy, and realising that money used well does so much good, I am beginning to warm to this notion.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Health, safety, and energy

I have noticed that when it comes to prevention our society tends to place a lot more emphasis on safety than it does on health. This may seem surprising at first glance, given that "health care" currently uses up nearly half of all provincial budgets.

"Health care", very tragically, focuses almost totally on attempts to repair our health, not on preventing disease and injury. Even the Canadian Cancer Society invests some on cancer prevention, but the vast majority of its resources go into researching cures for cancer.

When it comes to improving the safety of such things as our highways, airports, and even some inter-city buses a great deal of effort and money is being expended. Increasingly we continue to lose rights as national governments attempt to prevent terrorism (however rather narrowly defined).

This tendency to focus on safety over health is most vividly observed when it comes to transportation, especially the private automobile. It is in our collective perception that travelling by car is safer than it is by bicycle. Stats suggest that the margin of improved safety is very slim: despite the number of cyclists who frequently break traffic laws it is only nominally more risky to be riding than it is to be driving. Motor cyclists and pedestrians are at far higher risks of injury or death.

Contrast this perceived risk for cyclists to the actual outcomes: cyclists are far more likely to be healthy, simply because we get a decent amount of exercise and more fresh air. Exercise alone leads to improved mental and physical health, lowered rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, premature death and a lot more. Further, eliminating pollutants by cycling reduces the incidence of asthma and a few thousand deaths in Canada, every year.

Even users of public transportation are several times more likely to meet the minimum health levels than are car users.

Our dependence on the automobile is also greatly increasing the risk to the planet due to run-away climate change. For several years the Pentagon has been assessing how to minimise the resulting security risks to the United States. Note that they are assessing security risks, not health risks.

The good news is that those who "get it", those who care about their physical, mental, financial and the planetary health (all of these go hand-in-hand) are far more likely to change their lifestyles so as to minimise the use of driving and eating way less red meat, and instead get exercise, enough sleep, eat organically, laugh frequently, appreciate meaningful relationships, and all the things that make for a high quality life.

Such preventative measures improve our individual, collective and planetary health. And, as it turns out, also improve our collective safety and security!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What is money?

One of the things I sometimes ask couples who are arguing about money is what money means to each of them.

At first they look at me rather blankly. When I give them some examples of what people believe about money they get it! And then they discover that they have different meanings about money. The penny drops.

Money means a variety of things to us: Security, freedom, responsibility, fear (of not having enough), power, and more.

When it comes to being a "business man" I have tended to avoid anything that would remind me (and others) of greed, manipulation, etc. as I do not see myself as being one to use others.

Fair enough.

Unfortunately this fear has created a relationship with money that has not served me. Instead of courageously inviting people to use their money wisely on energy-efficient products and services, I've tended to sit back and wait for them to make a decision on insufficient information.

This has not served them, me, nor the planet. As people do tend to use their money on things that are familiar and regular (e.g. coffee) most people fail to make the investment in their own energy security, comfort, and sustainability.

By holding myself back, trying to avoid looking like I'm the classic "salesman" I have essentially robbed them of the opportunity to think outside of their habits, comforts, etc., and thus to miss a vital opportunity.

I realised a couple of weeks ago that unless I attract a lot more money into my business and life I will fail to bring about the changes to the world, our home, that I passionately desire.

It is possible to be respectful and powerful at the same time. That time has come.

The planet and its people depend on it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

EcoEnergy incentives cancelled (again)

As I had anticipated the Conservative Harper government (Canada) has again cancelled the home energy audit program. As of April Fools day 2010 all new audits will no longer attract federal funding. (Some provinces will continue their programs.)

It seems that the program was too effective at reducing unneeded energy costs for homeowners, and the pollution such waste creates.

Imagine if the education system was ended because people were getting better educated!

Of course there would come a time in which most people realised that the biggest incentive to updating their home or business energy-wise is to invest in making the needed changes. Then governments would have done their job in initiating this trend. But we're not there, not quite yet.

It is worthy of note that both the provincial and federal governments are spending increasing amounts of money into subsidizing the oil and gas industries, calling this "green" because of unproven technologies such as carbon sequestration, as well as building more highways (way more than cycling paths, public transportation, etc.).

Those who suffer the higher costs of rising energy prices (electricity in B.C. is supposed to increase 30% over the next three years), unless they are low-income folk, can only blame themselves for not looking ahead and acting now.

The lack of vision at the federal and provincial levels isn't helping.

Those reading this blog will likely be providing leadership in these regards by updating their homes, improving their transportation, and encouraging others to do the same.

Here's to these wise souls!

Green shifting the HST

While the vast majority of B.C. residents (and likely Ontario's, too) are opposed to the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax, a.k.a the Hated Sales Tax) there is a reason why, in principal, it is appreciated by green-minded folk.

The HST, if it is done correctly, can reduce unneeded spending and shift it to expenditures that are helpful for the planet, jobs, the long-term future of the economy, our kids, etc.

Very sadly the B.C. government, through poor planning or worse, is actually taking us in the opposite direction through the HST. How? The HST will reduce the price on motor vehicle fuels and home heating energy (the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gases, pollution, a dim future, etc.) and adding taxation on to things such as bicycles, green home/building renovation, renewable energy products, and the like!

When the BCSEA (BC Sustainable Energy Association) spoke to people at the Tax Policy Division, they learned that by keeping the subsidy, BC was forgoing $300 million a year in transport-related revenue, and $200 million a year in buildings-related revenue, money which could be used to fund the urgently-needed transition to sustainable transport and buildings.

I understand the Tax Policy Division is brewing a campaign to build public support for ending the 7% heating and transport fuels sales tax subsidy, using the $500 million a year income to create a Sustainable Transportation Transition Fund for transit, cycling, ridesharing, etc, and a Sustainable Buildings Transition Fund for energy efficiency retrofits, and free insulation for people on low incomes, etc. The restored LiveSmartBC budget for energy efficient buildings is a paltry $35 million over three years; ending the subsidy would supply $200 million a year for efficient buildings.

Ordinary people, faced with a 7% increase in the price of heat and fuel, could then use one of new funded programs to reduce their costs by 15-20%. This way, everyone wins - taxpayers and the environment.

This is what is called a "win-win" solution for those who are not lazy or prefer to complain, as those who act on this "tax shift" opportunity will be rewarded handsomely! As will the planet and our collective future.

If you wish to push for this change, I suggest that you write to

Hon Colin Hanson
PO Box 9048
Victoria BC
V8W 9E2
Phone: 250 387-3751
Fax: 250 387-5594

Letters to newspapers, e-mailing friends, etc. all help a lot.

Using taxation powers to bring about positive change only makes sense.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Environmentalists & economists: being useful or useless?

The Nanaimo Daily News has sometimes put the "environmentalist" label on me. If they mean by this that I care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the future of employment (if not humanity), then I think they are right.

Too often, though, that "environmentalist" label, especially when used by the commercial mass media, suggests that such persons are unconcerned about "the economy", are anti-corporate, naive to how the world actually runs, etc. Many environmentalists counter by saying that economists are out of touch with reality since a finite planet cannot possibly support an infinitely expanding economy.

I am a pragmatist. I know that employment cannot be supported when businesses and governments continue to support short-term profit margins at the expense of the future, policies that degrade the planet and undercut the very foundation of economies and work, and that continue to develop non-renewable energy. I am reminded of the man who wanted to fly and who did so by jumping off a high building. On his descent he was heard saying "so far so good!"

So while I fail to see how current economic models will serve us much longer, I am also critical of "environmentalists" who fail to walk the talk. If they have such a good message to give, are they showing us the way to sustainability? Or are they more interested in complaining, protesting and being victims?

Not long ago I was invited by an environmental student body to display my energy and water-saving devices at an event they were hosting. This made sense, as my company's products offer concrete measures that can help to "save the planet" as well as our pocketbooks. Very few of them bothered to come around to see what was being displayed. None of them bought a $15 "pop flush" device that could save up to 50% of the water their toilet uses, a device they could have taken with them to their next home (if they so wished).

Sadly this is not unusual. I have seen this scenario repeated in many ways and in different locals.

Thus I conclude that as many economists display a very small grasp of the longer term consequences of their policies and theories, so many environmentalists fail to champion positive ways of getting ourselves out of the mess we've created.

While there are plenty economists and environmentalists who are pragmatic, do offer a more positive vision for our collective future, and who "walk the talk", their numbers are not great enough to make the changes we need to make.

This, it seems, it is up to us "normal" human beings to make the difference. We who wish to embrace a positive, practical, sustainable future, and who are willing to talk by doing.

Maybe we are the true "environmentalists" and "economists."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heat pump follies

While it took only about 25 years for homeowners (and others) to begin to appreciate the benefits of heat pumps to heat and cool their buildings, not all is well in this industry.

First the advantages: heat pumps move heat, not create it. Unlike one's baseboard heater, heat pumps simply concentrate and move heat from outdoors to the indoors. This exactly how refrigerators work: they remove the heat from inside the fridge and put this heat into the kitchen. Moving heat is usually 2 - 3 times more efficient than is creating it (out of electricity, natural gas or oil). And the efficiency of heat pump technology keeps on improving. This is the good news.

The bad news is that there are lots of companies installing these units without the full certification required by plumbers and heating specialists. In addition, many of these companies try to undercut their competitor's prices by installing inferior equipment, pumps that are undersized, lacking sufficient ducting (heat pumps need more duct work than do the mid-efficient furnaces they often replace), and are often noisier. Too often, too, these units need more maintenance and/or earlier replacement.

Cheaper is certainly not better!

There is one additional area that bears mentioning: North American's are so sold on forced air heating (and cooling) systems that we are too quick to go to heat pump technologies, even when more efficient heating and cooling systems are available! Too often the government-sanctioned Energy Advisors tell homeowners who already have hydronic (water-based) heating systems to replace these with air-air heat pumps. Air is an insulator, and requires a lot more energy to push it around than does water. In addition air easily leaks out of buildings (expect to have between 3 and 14 full air exchanges every hour!). Water is totally contained, and is a far superior energy-transferring medium than is air. So by going to a forced air system the homeowner is taking a huge step backward!

More good news: slowly but surely air to water heat pumps are finally moving into the Canadian market. While they can not get the water as hot as the old furnaces do, it is possible to modify the hydronic system, and the building envelope, to make them work -especially on our mild coastal area. A qualified (and experienced) plumber and envelope specialist can make this happen.

One last word on the subject: the most efficient way of transmitting hydronic (water) heat is via radiators or in-floor heating. Unfortunately most windows are mostly clear to radiant heat and so they quickly transmit that heat directly into the outdoors! This is why I sell the Inflector radiant see-through window coverings, as the aluminum in the product reflects that radiant heat (from whatever the source) right back into the room, while absorbing the solar heat in the heating season (and reflecting the excess heat back outside in the summer). The best of all worlds.