Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ouch! Becoming 'green' is starting to hurt

Hump Day
Times & Transcript
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Pg. D6

Is it wrong that I'm probably not as environmentally conscious as I should be? I mean, I care about the environment, sure, but let's just say that I'm not going to start buying into the gimmick of turning off my lights for an hour once every year in the misguided thought that it will actually make a difference.

I realize, of course, that those who take part are doing so with good intentions. Reducing our carbon footprint in the world should be a lifelong goal, however is turning off our lights for an hour going to change anything? I think not.

Corporations are now jumping on the bandwagon, too. Last weekend, I went to a major office supplies retailer (the back-to-school sales are already on, by the way) only to find the store darkened because of some sort of "green" promotion. Apparently, the company has joined up with others to reduce the amount of light in their store in order to save the environment.

OK, you may have saved the environment, but I can say without exaggeration that all it did was turn off this consumer. The store looked dark and completely uninviting -- like when a place turns off its lights 15 minutes before closing to tell shoppers that they'd better head to the cashier right then and there or risk getting locked up in the store for the night with Fifi, the starving guard dog with rabies.

In fact, pretty much the universal sign for a store's imminent closing is to turn down the lights, so after years of consumers having this drilled into their heads, what do the brainiacs at this office supplies outlet do? They decide to turn down their lights for the entire day. The message they wanted to transmit was: "We care about the environment." The message I received was: "Get out! Get out, now! Here, Fifi!"

And if you've ever shopped for office supplies, looking for certain items -- like ink refills or other items only differentiated by an obscure code somewhere on the package -- is hard enough with all the lights on, but turn off half the lights and then try searching for a replacement cartridge for your "Barbie Goes to College" dot matrix printer! Let's just say that it ain't no fun.

So what did I do when I went in the store? Well, I spied exactly what I wanted (thankfully near the front of the store where a person could actually see) and bought it, feeling very uncomfortable even thinking about walking around the rest of the cavernous, darkened store. I felt unwelcome, rushed and annoyed that one of my favourite stores made it so difficult for me to shop there in an effort to be supposedly "green".

And furthermore, what about personal safety? I'm not particularly worried about my own safety, but what about others? Rats congregate in the dark, after all, and they'll congregate in the darkened corners of a store, too. A bad person will do the same.

Another thing I'm having a real problem doing is having to practically cash in my retirement savings in order to pay for more energy-efficient light bulbs. Can someone tell me how paying 10 times the usual cost of a "regular"

light bulb to save a few cents per month is helping anyone except the manufacturer of the light bulb? Is anyone really keeping track of how long these bulbs last? I'm sure I'm not the only one who's purchased these so-called miracle bulbs only to see them conk out a few months later.

Oh heck, even if I admitted that the bulbs may save you a bit of cash over time, they are so dim that I can't imagine having a house full of them. You might as well keep the lights off in middle of the night and walk round with a jar full of fireflies leading your way. You'd get about as much candlepower from that as you would from one of those energy-efficient jobbies.

Well, I guess there goes my political career as environment minister, huh?

There's hope for me yet, though! Don't worry, I'm not completely environmentally ignorant! I'm hell-bent on upgrading my windows here at home, as well as my heating system. My current system is a dog's breakfast of knitted-together technologies that make no sense when I could literally just get a completely new heating system and it would pay for itself by consolidating my energy sources and increasing the efficiency of my home. Right now, I'm throwing money out the window... literally!

My current furnace is so ancient that the oldest date on the service record was written in Roman numerals, so it's probably time to upgrade. Besides, I can't imagine that a new system -- no matter what I get -- won't be a million times more efficient than the 45-year-old clunker that takes up half my basement. It's older than I am!

Since my mortgage comes due this fall, I've started researching costs and ways to get this work done, including a bit of an upgrade to my poor bathroom, a room stuck in the 1970s if there ever was one. The kitchen will have to wait for now, but the windows, furnace, perhaps the siding, and that poor out-of-date bathroom are at the top of the priority list. After that and a bit of juggling around of other debt, I should be able to afford some of those pricey bulbs that promise to pay for themselves over 50 years.

If I don't upgrade my heating system soon and start saving money, I'm probably going to have to start turning off my lights not because I want to, but because I can't afford not to. And therein lies the main impetus for energy conservation: if it hurts enough, we'll change our bad habits. Maybe that carbon tax isn't such a bad thing?

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