Symposium series aims to clear the air on climate change

When Peter Love set out to explain the connection between climate change and new electricity conservation regulations in Ontario, he knew the importance of keeping it simple.

“I don’t give many numbers when I talk to people,” he said from the podium, “A lot of people, I know, are confused (about climate change).”

Appointed as the Ontario Power Authority’s first Conservation Officer in 2005. Love, now a private consultant, helped the province reduce peak user energy demand by five per cent in two years, and develop programs to promote a ‘conservation culture.’

He addressed a group of over 50 people at a public symposium Wednesday afternoon, organized by U of T’s Centre for the Environment. The symposium was held at the University’s Faculty Club on Wilcocks Street. Nestled just off Spadina Avenue, the 200-year-old manor house is an unassuming venue, dwarfed by the larger campus facilities on surrounding it.

The question of climate change was the first issue Love wanted to sort out: “The essential thing for people to understand,” he said, “is that man-made green house gas emissions are contributing to climate change… The real debate is how bad is it going to get, and when.”

“They can’t tell us that now,” Love says, but says that the body of scientific evidence suggesting the planet is on a dangerous trajectory is worth acting on.

“There are no losers with conservation,” he said.

Eighty-two per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are produced from the consumption and production of electricity, Love said. To reduce emissions, he said, what Toronto residents need to focus on is “how much we use, and where it’s coming from.”

Last year, Ontario introduced a plan to charge more for electricity during the hours it is in greatest demand: between 7 and 11 am, and 5 to 9 pm. The extra $400-million the new income is then redistributed to consumers in the form of coupons and incentives to reduce their electricity consumption.

Residential programs introduced include ‘Free Fridge Pick Up,’ for older, less efficient refrigerators, and the Feed-In Tariff system, which encourages people to generate renewable electricity in their own homes, and feed it back to the provincial grid.

Over the course of the one-hour talk, Love helped attendees understand why their electricity now costs more if more people are using it, what ‘distributive generation’ is, and how they might determine the shape of the electricity grid and job market in Ontario, if the OPA continues to pursue it.

He also suggested consumers take advantage of the wealth of online information available, not only on government websites, but from public utilities such as Toronto Hydro, Consumer’s Gas, or Enbridge Gas Distribution.

The Centre for the Environment at U of T is also reaching out to energy consumers, offering public discussion and education through their seminar series.

Emma Thacker works as a program developer at the Centre. She says that turn-out for symposium series has been increasing every year.

“I had to pull in an extra row of chairs from across the hall today,” she said.