I've never really thought of myself as an environmentalist. I learned to ride a bike not because I wanted to make a statement about gas guzzling but because it was quicker than waiting for the TTC on a lonely stretch of suburban sprawl.
And like others in my neighbourhood, our house was heated with electricity - a selling point since hydro was so cheap back then.
So was my father, who had a Scrooge-like touch with the thermostat. We wore a lot of sweaters in the winter and sweated it out in the summer, complaining all the way.
So I was surprised to learn during last week's scorching heat wave that I am an environmentalist after all.
This bit of insight comes via Toronto Hydro's Summer Challenge. The flyer at my door tells me I can get a 10 per cent credit on my fall hydro bill if I reduce my summer electricity suck by 10 per cent. Cool - great idea.
Except, as I look through the flyer's 10 suggestions for reducing use, I realize I don't actually use enough to get the credit.
On the other hand, if you are a hydro hog you'll have no problem getting the credit. You barely need to leave your air-conditioned living room to do it.
Why, if you turn the thermostat on your swimming pool heater down 1 degree and your air con up 1 degree, according to the flyer you'll reduce your consumption by 12 per cent, easily surpassing the target.
If you want to get really green, you can organize a hike to your basement or garage and unplug the beer fridge for another 3 per cent, totalling 15 per cent. This is getting positively Suzukian.
After the contractor finishes the deck, why not get him to caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows to keep your air-conditioned air from escaping. That's good for another 10 per cent reduction, putting you over the target of California's successful 20/20 program (20 per cent reduction, 20 per cent credit).
"When California started its program, it was in a crisis," Hydro spokesperson Tanya Bruckmueller tells me when I call to complain."We thought 20 per cent was too much right now. This program is more attainable for the wastrels. The majority of Torontonians can get the 10 per cent."
Wait a minute. I try to explain to her that I, too, am a hydro wastrel and my low electricity usage is just an accident, a coincidence. Okay, I admit I use a clothesline (5 per cent savings), but it's for purely selfish reasons: it provides some shade in the backyard. Speaking of which, my wardrobe doesn't merit being washed in anything but cold water anyway (another 5 per cent savings).
I don't have air conditioning (a whopping 25 per cent) because, following in my father's footsteps, I'm too cheap to get the one that isn't working fixed.
And I only run the dishwasher when it's full (5 per cent), not because it makes sense to do so even to a small child, but because I only think to turn it on when I can no longer stuff it with dirty dishes.
"Look, let's give credit where credit is due," says Keith Stewart, World Wildlife Fund Canada's climate change campaign manager. "Toronto Hydro is leading the province in electricity conservation. It is the only electricity utility in the province that has set a target for peak use reduction and is on track to meet it."
(The McGuinty government promised to cut peak demand by 5 per cent across the province by 2007 and has asked municipal utilities to pitch in.) That amounts to about 250 megawatts in Toronto, or about 75,000 homes' worth of electricity. Toronto Hydro is halfway to the target.
Indeed, it may come as a shocker that while the province posted a new record in electricity consumption during last week's cooker, Toronto itself did not break a record. "We use 20 per cent of the provincial peak, so we should have broken a record, too," says Bruckmueller. "It appears that conservation is happening."
But amidst this happy news, some things are disturbing - like Hydro's soft touch. Aren't we in a crisis right now? If one-third of homes met California's more aggressive challenge, this in the land where everyone's air conditioner seems set to a subarctic temperature, then surely we could, too.
On a personal note, Bruckmueller tells me Toronto Hydro has talked about ways of crediting the under-consumer, but "we have no solution yet. The reality is, Andrew, you may not be able to meet the 10 per cent reduction."
Oh, well. Let's see - six compact fluorescents will get me a 3 per cent reduction. So I'd need to buy about 20. A quick price check at my local hardware store tells me that adds up to about 100 bucks for 20 bulbs of various wattages.
Or I could get my AC fixed, crank it and win the credit next year. Hmm.