I hate to be a spoilsport when public officials are finally toasting the virtues of energy conservation. But all this fuzzy-headed commitment to self-sacrifice displays a level of ecological illiteracy that ensures the power-mongers will only ramp up more nuclear reactors, coal plants and transmission wires.
Pressuring people to give up personal comfort and convenience is considered the worst possible position by many greens, because it feeds the lie that environmental responsibility entails suffering.
The fact is, there is another option, but you wouldn't know it existed if you relied on the Ontario government's full-page information ads. Here, the Tories thanked the public for the many little things - turning down air conditioners, using microwaves for cooking, switching off lights - that added up to a big difference in energy use. As a society, Premier Ernie Eves proclaimed when he ended the state of emergency as full power returned on August 22, we've all learned "what a difference individual action can make in terms of energy conservation."
In the midst of this, support for energy conservation reached an historic high last week when 84 per cent of Ontario residents told pollsters that personal cutbacks in electricity use were essential, 58 per cent said they would darken more rooms in the future and 37 per cent said they'd reduce their use of air con.
Certainly, individual mindfulness and responsibility are important - we can't push-button our way to less polluting or more reliable energy. But personal acts need to be aligned with government policies. Contrary to the power promoters' incessant propaganda about the threat of having to shiver or (depending on the season) sweat in the dark if new power projects aren't given the green light, the fact is that energy use can be reduced while costs are slashed and comfort and convenience boosted.
Instead of conservation, which preaches less energy from less use, we can practise efficiency, which provides more use from less energy.
For example, the government ads encouraged people to use microwaves, which, it was claimed, "use up to 75 per cent less energy than conventional ovens." The food that's made for microwaves is tasteless enough without the additional indignity of having to heat other foods in it, so this definitely qualifies as government-approved conservation through personal sacrifice.
The ad makes no reference to non-conventional energy-efficient ovens. Nor does the ad acknowledge that frozen and microwave-ready foods are responsible for staggering amounts of energy used by processors', wholesalers' and supermarkets' freezers. This is just a stock repeat of old Ontario Hydro ad scams that boosted microwaves because, unlike gas ranges, they depended on electricity.
People were asked to "keep all lights off in any room you're not using," for instance, but no one was told that motion-sensitive lights automatically turn off at front doors and in garages, washrooms and halls when no one is there - unlike at Hydro One, where "the lights are on but nobody's home." Needless to say, there was no reference to energy-efficient light bulbs for use while people are in a room.
And, of course, no tips were given about unplugging beer fridges in hundreds of thousands of basements and garages. That would only draw attention to a big booboo that the government made. Since 1992, the energy efficiency of fridges has shot up by about 38 per cent - twice the rate of change needed to meet Kyoto goals, in case anyone doubts the power of efficiency to make positive changes painless.
The Ontario government knows about this and gives a tax rebate to people who buy the best of these energy-efficient fridges. But it gives no bounty for handing in the old fridge, which more often than not ends up keeping beer cold, using about 1,500 kilowatt hours of electrical juice a year. It's no use having conscientious citizens buying smart fridges with government policies as dumb as this.
It's not entirely fair to expect the Ontario government to know the difference between conservation and a hole in the ground, given that it cancelled the hiring of an energy conservation and efficiency expert right in the midst of the week of rolling blackouts. The job cancellation was quickly overturned after the NDP exposed the ludicrous cost-cutting exercise.
But at full throttle, the department will have two professional staff and a pitiful budget of $443,000, which is more to be laughed at than the cancellation of one position in a department with no clout.
The technologies for energy-efficient equipment already exist but seem overpriced thanks to a raft of government subsidies that encourage power use. Aside from the Ontario government's capping of electricity prices - something it doesn't do for food or other essentials - the province charges no sales tax on electricity, for instance, while the feds allow much bigger and faster business write-downs on fuel expenditures than on expenditures for energy-saving equipment. The energy labelling of appliances in Canada is decades behind standards elsewhere.
All of which is grist for the mill of U.S. energy legislation proposed for this fall, which will see President George Bush pushing for high-powered and polluting options. He'll be using the scare over the August blackout to drive his points home. And thanks to Ontario's integration into the U.S. electrical grid, we'll be forced to go along for the ride.