by William Nuttle
About two dozen people gathered in the Craft Room of the Glebe Community Centre for breakfast on Saturday, April 21, a glorious spring morning, to match wits with Alastair Larwill, a certified energy advisor. The event was the Carbon Challenge, the first in a series of workshops offered that day as part of the Glebe Community Association’s Old Home Earth Day Event.
The Carbon Challenge tested participants’ knowledge of home energy use. Ontario now offers homeowners financial incentives on home energy upgrades ranging from replacing windows to insulating walls and basements and replacing an inefficient furnace or hot water heater.
But which option gives the biggest bang for the buck? That’s the question that Larwill posed to contestants, with one further twist. In keeping with the spirit of the Old Home Earth Day Event, contestants were asked to identify the energy upgrade that would most reduce emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide), a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
The goal of the Old Home Earth Day Event is to help people reduce their burden on the environment by using less energy, making the switch away from fossil fuels as a source of energy and making our community more sustainable. Energy use in the home accounts for about 40 per cent of the emissions of greenhouse gas by the typical Glebe resident. Heating and hot water, two energy-intensive functions, account for the vast majority of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a home.
Most people are used to thinking about home energy use in terms of either comfort – turn up the thermostat – or cost – turn it down! Thinking in terms of our contribution to climate change proved to be a challenge. It did not take Larwill long to exhaust the field of contestants and determine a winner. Glebe resident Bernie Sander emerged the winner of a tense, fast-paced round of questioning, beating out several favourites that included the general manager of a certain well-known Ottawa renewable energy cooperative.
For Bernie’s vanquished competitors and the many others who arrived later in the day, the Old Home Earth Day Event offered a day-long program of workshops designed to help people take the next step on their journey to living more sustainably. Workshops on home energy upgrades started with “low-hanging fruit,” cost-effective actions that are easy to do, and proceeded through how to plan for a renovation to the more esoteric topics of choosing among different technologies that include the option of generating renewable energy at home.
A parallel stream of workshops for non-homeowners addressed other sources of personal greenhouse gas emissions. The workshop on transportation (30 per cent of greenhouses gases) featured a discussion of bicycling, car sharing and electric vehicles. The “Food for Thought” workshop on the production and delivery of food (13 per cent) discussed transitioning to eating less meat (meat production is a large source of greenhouse gases globally) and offered suggestions on reducing waste from unneeded packaging when we shop.
Complementing the workshops, the main hall of the community centre was filled with exhibits by professionals, vendors and community organizations aimed at helping people take that next step. A do-it-yourself corner staffed by the Ottawa Tool Library gave people hands-on experience sealing drafts with a caulking gun. Members of the Ottawa Electric Vehicle Council hosted a display of electric cars in the parking lot along Lyon Street.
More than 400 people had attended this year’s event by the end of the day, an increase of nearly half over the first event held last year. And, although relatively few of this year’s attendees knew of Bernie’s success, many were inspired to commit to taking a next step toward sustainability.
Thanks to everyone who attended and to the GCA Environment Committee and its partners on the organizing team: SmartNet Alliance, Peace and Environment Resource Centre, Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative and Bullfrog Power.
William Nuttle is a member of the GCA Environment Committee.