Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Live Earth Pledge #4

I know Live Earth is such a distant memory -- when was it again? -- that it's now Live Who? But I thought I really should finish up my critique of Al Gore's Seven Pledges. So here's Pledge #4 from Live Earth:

"To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;"

Unfortunately, in practical terms, this means you need money, lots of it, not only for the initial capital expense, but also for the replacement expenses when parts go belly-up on that high-efficiency furnace or a CFL burns out.

Most individuals cannot build their own energy-efficient furnace like one used to be able to do with a car engine. They rely on furnace manufacturers to invent and build highly efficient furnaces. High efficiency furnaces do exist (are they as efficient as possible???), but they are costly and require a specific building design and dissuade the opening of windows. (Commercial buildings are all now built without openable windows as well, even the short ones, yet creating a breezeway between open windows helps to cool a building.) Only the rich can afford such furnaces and the accompanying renovation costs.

Most people don't have the time or ability to hunt out esoteric but environmentally-friendly products, which inevitably cost more, way more. Those with money can hire the right kind of expertise and buy the green products. It's a big problem that only the well off can do this. But it isn't only the middle class that have trouble affording it, it's also those who need the operating-cost savings the most: the poor, the infirm, the elderly. Someone on a fixed income cannot afford the high cost of CFLs. People with low incomes cannot afford the ridiculous energy assessment the government requires in order to get a discount on making one's home green. I say ridiculous because why do I need to pay to be told the obvious: buy good windows, insulate the house inside and out, parge the basement walls, buy materials such as bamboo flooring, etc. A far more effective use of the government funds for this program is to set up a website that lists all the ways to make a house R2000 (or whatever the current standard is) and provides links to sources. And then since the poor are the least able to pay their utility bills and thus least likely to pay for energy-efficient upgrades, set up a program that provides real money to help low-income homeowners insulate their houses, replace the windows, buy higher efficiency furnaces, and so on.

The other issue with Pledge #4 is that to meet that goal you also need to have great influence over manufacturers. That is really only achievable en masse as has happened in Europe. But Europeans seem far, far better able to work as a mass than North Americans, or Canadians anyway. Maybe one day this will change. One day.

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