Wrap your mind around cost of ‘green’

Wrapping one
Wrapping one's head around the cost of going 'green' can be difficult for some people.
— image credit: News Bulletin file photo

Pulling up to dispose of a truck full of yard waste, the driver notices the dumping fee has gone up to $7.

“Forget it,” he mutters and drives away, heading to a dirt road in the forest where he can drop it off for free although illegally. “It’s just leaves, it will rot.”

Like everything else, the cost of recycling is going up.

But will it deter people from doing the right thing?

“For those who think the government is only interested in ripping them off, I suppose so,” said Ian Gartshore, chairman of Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island. “If that’s their world view, then of course they’re going to look for any option and any opportunity to not pay.

“I would imagine some people wouldn’t wince at all to put $50 worth of fuel in their vehicle to go out and dump garbage in the back 40 to save themselves $7.”

And it’s not just recycling that takes a hit from rising costs.

Performing energy audits for the public, Gartshore has seen the cost of saving energy – and the lack of immediate return – sway people from change.

“I’ll never forget feeling a bit depressed the first day I was asked to do an energy audit. It wasn’t a certified one or a government one, it was simply to help somebody figure out what to do with their house,” he said. “This woman was quite green-oriented. She was into sustainability and wanted to save the Earth.”

Gartshore looked over an official energy audit that she received but had done nothing with it.

“She had an inefficient shower head, her crawlspace could be insulated … she was wasting a lot of energy,” he said. “And in the end she decided to spend the money on a new deck.”

He says it all boils down to what is important to each of us.

“People will say it’s not worth it because it costs so much, that it’s going to take too long for these energy measures to pay themselves off,” he said. “But they don’t blink at putting $10,000 or $20,000 into a kitchen that will never pay for itself.

“Whereas if you put up a solar hot water system, put in insulation or replace your windows, eventually they will pay for themselves and you’ll have more money to do more good.”

Wrapping one’s head around energy saving has a lot to do with being both selfless and selfish.

“You have to be a little selfless, not think about yourself and today, but think about tomorrow,” said Gartshore. “Do you want to look your grandchild in the eye and say ‘we did lots to help make this planet a better place so you could have jobs, you could have clean air and you could have a better future’?”

And if people invest a little time and research into saving energy, there can be instant gratification.

“Replacing windows can be a pricey ticket for a lot of people, but they’re amazed at how much more comfortable they feel,” said Gartshore. “And there is help out there. When people insulate their attic and get a major portion of it paid for by government incentives, they’re that much more comfortable in the summer, stay that much more warmer in the winter … isn’t that an immediate benefit?

“You can look at all these selfish measures and feel smug because not only are you feeling better in your home, but are helping future generations. To me, that is a win-win situation.”

So is there a way of getting around the cost of going green?

Gartshore believes it’s all a mindset.

“It’s difficult for people to wrap their heads around the fact that if more and more of us save energy, it will keep energy prices lower for all of us,” he said. “It’s supply and demand. Reduce the amount of energy we are using and energy prices will not go up as fast.

“How long does it take to pay itself off? I don’t know and really, is it that important? Isn’t the fact that it will pay for itself worth something? Isn’t the fact that you’re doing a good thing and will have some energy security a bonus?”

Gartshore believes North Americans have been spoiled with cheap energy and have been “amazingly” wasteful.

“That’s our mindset. It’s the way we think. We think energy is infinite. We are so used to having cheap energy that when the prices go up, we start bitching and complaining,” he said. “Clients I have who have come from Europe have a different mindset.

“Europe has had double our energy prices forever and they don’t bitch and complain. They go out and do something about it.”

To try and change people’s way of thinking is never an easy task, particularly when they’ve become used to a certain way of living.

“There are those who like being victims and will sit around and complain. They don’t know anything different. If you give children something and then take it away, they complain,” said Gartshore.

But for others capable of change, it’s going to take inconvenience and sacrifice. It’s going to take the pain of high energy prices.

“When people get in enough pain, that’s when they change. And that’s not just with energy, that’s everyday life,” he said. “When our relationship gets lousy enough with our partner, we know it’s time to do something about it. When a health issue gets big enough, it’s time to go to the doctor.

“And that’s true for energy. It’s only high energy costs that really motivate us.”

And Gartshore believes we’re on the cusp of high energy costs.

Oil and natural gas prices are a bit suppressed, but electricity prices are never going to go down because we are always demanding more of it, he said.

“Electricity here is still cheap. California pays three times what we pay depending on the time of day and that’s what’s coming,” he said. “What happens in most of North America catches up to us because the economies are tied.”

And high prices are what’s going to wake most people up.

“I’m hearing from more people who had their biggest electrical bill ever from our winter last year,” he said. “When we realize energy costs are going up faster than the rate of inflation, eating more of our budget, and we are not making more money each year, people will begin to feel the pinch and be more likely to do something about it.”

Gartshore said five per cent of the population will do something about energy cost regardless of what it costs them – leading the way for others.

“Some will be upset that they did the right thing, forked out the money and then the government came in to help those who followed,” he said. “But they’re the five per cent who led the way to get the government to realize this is important enough to the people to add some incentives.

“And it’s not a waste of money because they have been saving on the cost of energy and have helped many people. It all comes back to the selflessness. The cost of being a leader is not always fun.”


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