by Theresa Peluso

Dark SkiesIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ….(from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens)

Continuing our current overconsumption of resources and pollution and destruction of our natural environment would certainly qualify these times as the “age of foolishness”; but increasingly, countless groups of concerned citizens are trying to create an “age of wisdom”. Instead of London and Paris, the two towns in question are – Perth and Mississippi Mills.

As mentioned in last month’s column, the Town of Perth, encouraged by EcoPerth, signed on to the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) and undertook numerous initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions. EcoPerth persuaded the town to retrofit their municipal buildings, helped schools with naturalizing their yards, and provided rain barrels to interested residents. They also set up a website for residents, schools and small businesses, http://ecocommunities.ecoperth.on.ca/english/modules/index.php, to provide useful tips on the following: solar domestic hot water systems; buying food locally; relamping your house with compact fluorescent light bulbs; buying trees for planting and situating them so as to minimize your house’s energy loss and/or heat gain, booking visits by volunteers or master gardeners for earth-friendly advice on gardening, lawn care and naturalizing waterfronts; water conservation; connecting with people interested in carpooling; getting signs to remind people not to idle their car engines; and several contests and programs to encourage families, communities, and students to reduce their carbon emissions. Given that in 2007, residential carbon emissions accounted for 17 percent of total emissions for Canada, and commercial and institutional emissions accounted for 14 percent, there are significant reductions possible here. (Numbers from http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/publications/statistics/trends11/pdf/trends.pdf; I was unable to find more current data showing these particular sectors, but I think the numbers haven’t changed significantly.)

Although Mississippi Mills haven’t gone as far as to sign up with the Partners for Climate Protection program, they have engaged in several green programs.

In 2009, Ontario implemented the Green Energy Act, which directed all public agencies in Ontario to prepare, publicly report, and implement energy conservation and demand management plans. The Mississippi Mills Department of Roads and Public Works have consequently undergone an exhaustive overhaul of their facilities by relamping them (including converting the Town’s Christmas decorations to LED lights), replacing furnaces, air conditioners, hot-water tanks and appliances with high-efficiency models, adding insulation to buildings and retrofitting windows to reduce heat loss, and installing heat-ventilation-recovery systems. Here are the 2012 and 2013 greenhouse gas emission totals from the Town’s Energy Consumption Report.

2012 650,521 GHG Emissions (kgCO2e/yr) 2013 791,844 GHG Emissions (kgCO2e/yr) (includes new wastewater treatment plant)

The emissions of the new wastewater treatment plant, commissioned in 2013, were approximately 190,000 kgCO2e/yr, which, if subtracted from the 2013 total, gives net total emissions of 601,844 kgCO2e/yr, a savings of about 8 percent. The plan is to achieve a 15 percent reduction in carbon emissions for most of the Town’s facilities by 2015. The Town and their taxpayers should also reap the benefits of much lower expenses as a result.

The Town also has a Dark Skies policy, which is valued by all those with a fascination for heavenly bodies, but also reduces wasted energy by imposing strict limits on light pollution. They also promote the sale of rain barrels in the spring, which reduces the carbon emissions required to pump water to your taps.

Several of the Town’s committees have initiated projects that, in addition to other benefits, have resulted in lower carbon emissions. The efforts of the Environmental Advisory Committee to improve the Town’s waste diversion program and promote composting have helped to decrease methane emissions in landfills and to reduce energy costs by facilitating the use of recycled material to make new products. Their latest pilot project, to make water-filling stations available for public use, will lessen the consumption of water in plastic bottles, and reduce the related energy costs to manufacture and transport these bottles. The trees and gardens promoted by the Beautification Committee help to absorb carbon emissions.

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have helped tremendously to increase appreciation and enjoyment of our natural environment, and worktirelessly on projects to protect and nurture habitat. Restricting their long list of accomplishments to projects with an obvious impact on reducing carbon emissions, they have worked on: habitat creation and protection, which results in absorption of carbon emissions, mitigation of the effects of climate change, and availability of areas for non-motorized physical activity; education programs, which instill a desire in children and adults to reduce their environmental impacts as they learn to appreciate and understand nature; and the plastic bag reduction program, which has helped to reduce the carbon emissions required to make and transport bags.

In addition, numerous individuals and small groups have undertaken projects that help to reduce our carbon emissions. The Lanark Local Flavour program, started by EcoPerth to encourage people to buy their food from local producers, continues to flourish here and elsewhere. Naismith Public School staff and students have created gardens with the help of MVFN and the Almonte Horticultural Society. We have numerous farms, mills and workshops that produce high-quality goods and food products locally, and several stores and market stands in Almonte and Pakenham that sell them. David Hinks, our resident Master Gardener, and the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens are always there to provide help and advice to residents who want to shorten the farm-to-table trip even further by growing their own produce. Think of all the carbon emissions saved in transportation as a result of all these initiatives! Dedicated volunteers and performers also offer concerts and festivals galore so that the rest of us don’t have far to go to have fun. And don’t forget the good folks who connect us to all these riches – the Humm, the Millstone, and the Canadian Gazette! By the way, if I have omitted anyone or anything in my long list, please let me know!

Last, but not least, we have several establishments in Mississippi Mills that give second, third, and fourth lives to items that the original owners no longer want or need. There are the famous volunteer-run Hub and Rebound stores, and also numerous second-hand and antique stores. By buying from them, we reduce the carbon emissions needed to produce and transport new goods.

The Town of Mississippi Mills, with the help of many residents, have achieved many of the same goals as Perth, with some exceptions. We need more accessible, more comprehensive and better organized information on how to reduce our carbon emissions. In addition, we need to do more to coordinate, promote and encourage individual and group efforts, and to set goals and track our success at achieving them.

We still are faced with “the worst of times” with the spectre of increasing global warming, but the fact that we have so many organizations and volunteers working to change this course of events also makes this “the best of times”. Clearly, we’re doing a lot to reduce our carbon footprint, but we can still do more! Stay tuned for next month’s column, which will discuss transportation, including active transportation, among other things.