Kyoto to Doha to Innisfil – My Environmental Challenge

The Kyoto Agreement was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era of international cooperation. Instead, it demonstrated a spectacular failure of political leadership. That led some people to lament about public indifference when the latest climate conference took place in Doha, Qatar.  “The head of the UN’s climate change secretariat, said … that she didn’t see much public interest, support, for governments to take on more ambitious and more courageous decisions.” Or maybe we’ve just given up hope?

Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “have grown 20 per cent since 2000, according to a recent UN report, which showed the gap is growing between what governments are doing and what science indicates must be done to contain warming.”

There is a growing perception that a 2ºC increase in global temperature will be both unavoidable and catastrophic. An increase of 0.7ºC has already occurred. (There were 11 U.S. weather events that caused a billion dollars or more in damages in 2012). With an intransigent federal government that takes its cues from the US, and a lame provincial regime in Ontario, it’s little surprise that the real activity on climate change is taking place at the local level, both municipally and individually. The conclusion from the UN representative is that we are on our own.  “Each one of us needs to assume responsibility. It’s not just about domestic governments.”

With that in mind, I’m in the midst of measuring my own small steps in reducing our household environmental impact. My aged furnace drew its last breath in the spring of 2012 and I had to decide on a new heating system for this winter season. I looked at various solar thermal systems but they were still beyond my budget. In the end I decided to continue to rely on natural gas as the heat source but also decided to significantly improve the old original insulation for both the crawl space and the attic.

The insulation contractor that I chose told me that he had maxed the insulation on his own home and only turns on his heat when the outside temperature is 2ºC or less. Well, I’m not quite that snug, but I have been gathering statistics on my heating performance and overall gas consumption for 3 months (October – December). Here’s what I’ve found:

– Weather to date has been colder:

14% more heating degree days (HDD) vs. 2011/12 season;

23% more than the previous 3 year average

– Gas used (cubic metres) has been only slightly higher:

about 3%  higher than 2011/12 season

– Gas used per heating degree day is lower:

about 16% below the average of the last 3 years

– Heating cost to date is nominally lower:

gas supply-related cost is about $15.00 less than last year so far (we’re also saving on electricity usage)

From an environmental standpoint, I estimate that my residential greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by about 25% based on an equivalent number of heating degree days. Personally, the best outcome is that we’ve been able to keep the temperature set a little higher than before although we continue to set-back at night, we have better humidity in the house, and feel more comfortable while reducing our fuel use and costs. In the absence of bigger ideas, it won’t save the planet or prevent a weather disaster but it’s a start – it’s my start.