A Cold Hard Winter

Every morning, as your alarm clock beeps and you begin to awake from your deep, relaxing sleep and groggily make your way into the kitchen to look outside, you will find the sun just isn’t quite as high in the sky as it was only two short months ago. As you open the window and feel a dense, cold wind push down against your feet, instead of a warm, light breeze on your face, you realize that winter is coming. With every passing evening you feel that growing urge to turn on your furnace and enjoy the warm air once again filling the room around you. But you think twice as you know that now, more than ever, every gasp of air that finds its way through your furnace will cost you an arm and a leg.

Natural gas production in North America peaked in 2001, yet we continue constructing new single family homes heated by it. Retail gas contracts are already priced at over $11/GJ (Enmax, 2005), the highest ever recorded. This winter will make the Enron-plagued 2001 heating season look like a tropical vacation. With natural gas inventories at record lows, ever diminishing supply capacity, and demand that just won’t stop booming, we need to brace for the most expensive heating season ever and actively search for alternatives.

Enter politics. The Klein government continues to flip-flop on its commitment to deregulate energy and allow the private sector to find solutions to our energy crisis. Worse yet, its natural gas rebates subsidize the very inefficiency that low gas supplies and high prices demand we stop. Paul Martin’s Liberals, anticipating a spring election, are contemplating another quick, messy, one-shot heating rebate to further subsidize the grossly extravagant use of resources we Canadians are so accustomed to. “Whether there is an election or not, Canadians would want to know what, if anything, the Government of Canada can do to be of assistance,” claims Ralph Goodale (Cordon, 2005). How about spending the amount budgeted for rebate cheques on solar, geothermal, and nuclear energy instead?

Few of us even really know what solutions are available to us. For roughly $15,000, you can retrofit your house with a geothermal heating system. By using thermal energy from the water table deep into the ground, you can eliminate your natural gas use completely. You would only use electricity to run the pump to bring heat from the ground into your home for merely one quarter the cost of a conventional furnace. We’re not even mentioning the increase in value of your home by installing this heating system. Who has $15,000 kicking around, you ask? Not everyone, perhaps, but who has $15,000 in home equity lying around? Quite a few people do, and it’s infinitely smarter to get a home equity line of credit for a geothermal heating system than it is for a hardwood floor, ceramic tile, or a newly installed gas fireplace!

There’s also the issue of transportation. Nearly every one of you reading this is a student of Athabasca University. Congratulations! Without knowing it, you are saving yourself nearly $500 a year in transportation costs associated with commuting to a regular campus. Eliminate automobiles from your financial portfolio completely, and you can save yourself at least $3,000 a year in maintenance, fuel, insurance, and financing costs. I did it, and I know how good it feels to watch my bank account grow larger than my credit card debt. Buy yourself a nice bicycle and you can even eliminate trips to the gym from your schedule!

Recycling presents a unique, yet somewhat indirect, way to lower energy prices. By reducing non-organic wastes from our landfills, we decrease decomposition time and consequently make organic potting soil less expensive. This displaces commercial fertilizer use, which is made mostly with scarce, expensive natural gas. By increasing the stock of recycled materials, we decrease wholesale plastic, aluminum, rubber, steel, paper, glass, and silicon costs to manufacturers, decrease the gas and diesel used to mine and forest those resources, and decrease the cost of a new computer, pop bottle, or bike tire for consumers. Simply calling your local counselor, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), or Member of Parliament (MP) to suggest higher deposits for recyclable materials, or to add deposits to products that previously didn’t include them, can save our country millions upon millions of dollars.

There are countless ways to save money, the environment, and even lives, simply by living more efficiently. You may not be aware of it, but every time you fill your car with gas, you are giving the United States just one more reason to forcefully extract oil from Iraq. So who knows when, as Iraq’s oil reserves dwindle, Canada’s tar sands look larger than ever, and the United States’ insatiable appetite for fossil fuels continues to grow, that tank of gas will cost you more than just an arm and a leg.

Now is the time to start making investments in our future. We can’t allow our and our parents pensions to dwindle to the point where they can’t even pay the heating bill. The stakes are high and opportunities for gain enormous. It’s time to buy solar panels and trash that dream for a new SUV. You’ll find your cheque-book will thank you.

Cordon, S. (2005, September 21). Federal government weighs plans to deliver energy rebates before winter. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/cp/business/050917/b091716.html.
Enmax (2005, September 22). Residential Plans. Retrieved from http://www.enmax.com.

Source for additional information
Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) – http://www.peakoil.net.

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