Not about me, but about us

December 29, 2008

Not long ago, I heard Craig Kielberger speak. He’s a 20-something Nobel nominee with a passion for children’s rights and youth empowerment. His most recent campaign, called “ME to WE“, is about shifting our thinking. It’s about realizing how much can be accomplished when we think less about “me” and more about “we”: the local, national and global communities we belong to.

When it comes to climate change, there are no exemptions: we’re all in it together. If global warming could be compared to a Category 5 rapid on a river, every one of us would be a passenger in a raft headed toward the rapid. Getting through it means paddling together – a job made much easier when we think less about “me” and more about “we”.

Christmastime shows us the potential for human hearts to help, share and work together. So may that same Christmas spirit that brings out our best stay with us every day, to help us meet the challenges we will be facing together.

PS at this time of year, it’s helpful to be reminded of the Story of Stuff: where things (like many Christmas gifts) come from and where they usually end up.

Be a ‘nudgebreaker’

December 26, 2008

In stopped traffic, have you ever noticed that when one driver nudges ahead, everyone behind usually does the same thing? It seems we do that in any lineup, whether at the bank, grocery store or airport.

Does this ripple effect get anyone where they’re going any sooner? Well, no. But everyone does end up burning an extra shot of fuel each time they nudge forward.

So the next time you’re stopped traffic, be the ‘nudgebreaker’ and resist the urge to edge forward. You’ll save fuel for yourself and everyone in the line behind you.

Where’s the cheapest gas?

December 26, 2008

As consumers, we tend to really pinch pennies when it comes to buying gas. Often, we’ll even go out of our way to save a fraction of a cent per litre.

But does this really make sense? Just for a second, consider the math. Saving one tenth of a cent per litre on a fill-up of 50 litres adds up to a nickel. Most of us would see a saving of 2 cents a litre as a big thing, but even that adds up to only one dollar saved on a tankful – about the cost of a cookie and some crumbs at the local coffee shop.

If we have to go out of our way to get “cheaper gas”, the savings are usually more than offset by the amount of extra time we spend going for it, and the amount of extra fuel we burn in the process.

So where is the cheapest gas? All things considered, it’s usually at the first station you drive past in the course of your usual travels. Even if it costs a few nickels more per tank, it likely will benefit you more than that in saved fuel and time. And saved fuel is always better for the planet!!

Have you ever heard of a ‘chimney pillow’ or a ‘chimney balloon’? You might want to look into one if you have a chimney in your home. You see, if you have a chimney (especially one with a fireplace), there’s a good chance it’s running up your heating bill.

Fireplaces can be cozy and romantic, but they are not very efficient at heating a home – most of the heat they produce goes straight up the chimney. But what’s worse is this: long after the fire is out, a good bit of your precious home heat keeps going up the chimney. That’s because the dampers in chimneys are not very airtight, and they allow much warm air to escape up and out. They often create a noticeable draft indoors too.

To stop this heat loss, you can stuff a ‘chimney pillow’ or ‘chimney balloon’ up into the flue when there’s no fire on. Well installed, a pillow or balloon will stop drafts and save you significant heating dollars. You can buy one, or make your own with supplies from your hardware store. The internet has plenty of helpful information.

It’s easy to stop the draft from your flue or chimney – but remember to take it out before you start a fire!

A better way to flush

December 26, 2008

It sits there quietly, always ready when you need it. But it accounts for 30% of the water used inside most homes. “It”, of course, is the toilet.

But not all toilets are equal. Years ago, toilets used 20 ltres/flush. But today’s efficient models use just 6 L. Some even have dual flush controls, so you can flush with 3 or 6 L, depending on the needs of the moment.

The good news: you can now get a federal EcoEnergy grant when you upgrade to an eligible low flow toilet (and, in NB, assistance from Efficiency NB too). A list of eligible models can be downloaded from here (beware: there are MANY more toilets out there than you might have thought!). But remember, to get a grant, you need to get an EcoEnergy home evaluation done first.

Replacing an inefficient old toilet is the water equivalent of trading a Hummer for a hybrid – a great way to save!

Guilt-free Christmas lights

December 26, 2008

Bah humbug – these days, it seems even Christmas lights can’t escape scrutiny. How green are your outdoor lights?

If they’re the old-style lights with the big 7 cm long bulbs, yikes: a string of 25 takes 175 watts of power – equal to 13 compact fluorescent light bulbs.

But if they are the new outdoor LED lights, phew: a string of 75 lights uses 3 watts or less. That’s right – three times as many bulbs, a fraction of the power.

In dollars, that means using 75 LED lights 5 hours a night for 30 nights costs just 4.5 cents, compared to $7.95 for 75 old-style big bulbs. And many of us put up a lot more than 75 lights.

Make LEDs a part of your green Christmas. They use 99% less energy than old-style outdoor lights, so you can light up the neighborhood guilt-free for pennies!

How to save on a cold start

December 26, 2008

For many of us, plugging in our car is a convenient way to ensure that it starts on cold mornings. But your vehicle’s block heater is an energy hog: most use 400-450 watts – as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that’s costing you $17-19 per month.

Since it takes just 2 hours for a block heater to warm most engines, anything more is a waste of power. But you don’t need to get up extra early each morning – you can just get a timer (available at most hardware stores), and program it to turn your block heater on automatically while you’re still sleeping. You can save over 80%, and still be sure that your car will start in the morning.

Based on the above numbers, a $25 timer can pay for itself in about 2 months – an amazing investment! (Plus: a car that’s plugged in will warm up more quickly, and produce fewer emissions while warming up.)