Could We Live with Less?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Maybe we need to put our lifestyles on a diet. We see seniors doing this when they downsize into the last home they will own. Controlling expenses in the face of a fixed income is often the motivation necessary to make that move. Suppose you were faced with a fixed energy income. Would you be prepared to make the changes needed to live within those constraints?

The Copenhagen Conference is drawing attention from many sources; some positive – and some not so positive. Let’s look at a couple of positive concepts.

On Tuesday, December 15, CBS News posted a story from correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on The Quest for “2,000 Watt” Living. Zurich, Switzerland has proposed a challenge to its residents to consume no more than 2,000 watts every minute of every hour of every day.  This concept originated with a group of Swiss architects and engineers who did a rough calculation back in the 1990s to determine the amount of energy being used on the Earth each day and divided that by the number of people on the planet. The result of the calculation was 2,000 watts.

According to Palmer’s article, data shows that just about everyone in the developed world uses far more than 2,000 watts – the European average was 6,000 watts and the American average was 12,000 watts.

While some residents of Zurich try to live within 2,000 watts no one has managed to achieve that goal.  Most report that flying anywhere immediately blows the energy budget. I discovered the same problem when I calculated my own carbon footprint.

Saint-Gobain Playhouse

Saint-Gobain Playhouse

Another example of positive energy initiatives at the Copenhagen Summit is the Saint-Gobain Playhouse in the center of downtown Copenhagen. Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed’s parent company has constructed this low energy-consuming children’s playhouse/garden house that will be on display for visitors until December 18. The cube-shaped playhouse is built using all the energy-saving solutions of Saint-Gobain Scanglas, Isover, Gyproc, Weber, Ecophon, Saint-Gobain Glass, and Vetrotech. The house is so perfectly insulated that it can be heated with a handful of candle sticks.

The house is part of Saint-Gobain’s new, global Habitat strategy to be the world leader in supplying materials to sustainable buildings in areas focusing on energy efficiency, comfort, aesthetics, and environmental friendliness. CertainTeed, a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, fully embraces this concept as well.

Too bad each of us can’t fit inside, yet!

There were many examples of sustainable concepts that were featured in the news this week.  What were your favorites?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

The Diminished Hope of Copenhagen

Bella Center - Site of the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Bella Center - Site of the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Are we losing our momentum with regard to energy efficiency?

Early news reports coming out of the Copenhagen Conference indicate that there is talk of watered down versions and outcomes and that our leaders will accept less stringent guidelines coming out of these meetings. 

This sounds like negative trending. Instead of going in with positive attitudes, saying we are really going to work on solutions, we are defeated in attitude before we begin.

Some of this appears to be a result of what Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times and others in the media refer to as “Climategate.” The controversial event that occurred just before the Copenhagen Conference surrounded hacked e-mails and data files of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, suggesting that climatologists massage data in favor of global warming proponents. In his December 9 opinion piece, Friedman argues that, even if the data were skewed, it does not change the reality that the CO2 we put in the atmosphere stays there, is not reversible and over time could be catastrophic for the earth. There is, he says, no excuse to ignore any chance of global disaster.

It is true there are world financial issues at stake regarding the gross domestic product of countries and what many are economically capable of doing initially, but it’s not as if anything is going to happen this year or next year.  We are setting benchmarks for 2020, 2030, 2040, and if we don’t throw the target somewhere downfield, we don’t know where we’re going.

So I don’t understand why we are picking up the targets.  Leaving the targets out there, whether we hit them or not, gives us something to work toward. We’re not talking about mandates, we are talking about goals. A target can either be mandated or economically inspired – we hope for the inspired targets because mandates don’t work.

Any task of this magnitude looks daunting when you begin.  Take the highway system or the space program – putting a man on the moon was unthinkable but look at all the technologies that have come out of our space program? It’s not like we are telling everyone that they have to stop energy production tomorrow.

The companies that support and have developed long range plans to improve operations and reduce carbon emissions, like our parent company Saint-Gobain, should be commended for its resolve in this area.

I hope the Copenhagen Conference will be a constructive summit where we can launch into an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly future, because the risk we all face is too great for compromise.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.   

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton