Red flag flies in face of green targets 

EnviroFest 2012 offers up ways to change with free, family-oriented activities

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Whistler's environmental bell is tolling, heralding the news that the community is not on track to meet its green targets.

The municipality's 2011 Annual Report on energy consumption and greenhouse gas performance trends spells out in black and white not only worrisome news for the environment, which the resort relies on all too dearly, but also bad news for Whistler's wallets as energy costs continue to climb.

"I think we need to be concerned because energy costs are rising," said Dan Wilson, tourism business and monitoring specialist at the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. "After materials and labour, energy is generally the third largest cost centre for local businesses. From a resident perspective, energy costs generally only follow rent/mortgage and food costs. Luckily there are so many ways in which we can reduce energy use and most have benefits beyond cost savings."

The report's findings make this month's EnviroFest 2012, which is themed 'Change is Easier Than You Think,' that much more compelling.

"EnviroFest provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the individual and collective efforts that we make to sustain our natural environment," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "Making changes is not difficult and every single action does make a difference."

And yet, changing behaviour has proven more or less elusive in Whistler, according to the data in the report.

True, Whistler is on pace to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets for the first four years of the target period. What that means on the ground is roughly 4,500 tonnes of reductions annually over the last four years.

That's the good news. Here's the catch.

The primary source of these reductions have been one-time only events namely, the landfill closure and capturing the landfill gas, the switch from piped propane to natural gas, the reduction in diesel consumption through the hydrogen bus transit fleet and the changes from the provincial low-carbon fuel standards for gas and diesel.

One-time changes like these, however, are getting tougher to find.

To remain on target, Whistler needs to find 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of reduction in carbon dioxide.

The report states: "These future GHG reduction will need to be primarily premised on actual energy conservation and increased efficiency rather than one-time technological changes in community systems. The required conservation will be particularly challenging for the community as historic performance assessments demonstrate the energy conservation gains have proven elusive over the past decade."

Fifty-one per cent of the emissions come from passenger vehicles.

The report notes that the passenger vehicle sector is "a good opportunity for future community emission reductions" and it will need to be a combination of increased fuel efficiency, shifting to cleaner fuels like electricity and lower annual vehicle-kilometres-travelled per vehicle.

When asked about the biggest place for change, Whistler Blackcomb's mountain planning and environmental resource manager Arthur DeJong was unequivocal in his answer.

"Transportation: that's the Achilles Heel. That's the gorilla in the room."

He too sees the report as a "very clear warning that we're not getting the job done and we need to look harder at what our opportunities are. We need to do better or we're not going to get to where we need to get to clearly. We have to take this seriously. Certainly here (at Whistler Blackcomb) it's meant for us to increase our persistence, work harder at it, ask more questions and dig in and find out specifically why (it's trending this way)."

Last year marked the second highest level of total energy consumption ever recorded in Whistler.

Residential energy consumption continues to rise and while commercial consumption levels have decreased versus 2010 levels, they remain near the highest ever recorded in Whistler.

The municipality is proposing to introduce Whistler's first comprehensive energy reduction target — and one of the first by a local government in B.C. — in the Official Community Plan update, which is in draft form.

As currently proposed the draft OCP text states:

"The municipality will lead a community-wide effort to reduce total energy consumption to a level 10 per cent lower than 2007 by 2020."

The Whistler Centre for Sustainability has worked in 30 communities across B.C., studying many emissions and energy reports. Whistler is not alone.

"We also need to be concerned at the lack of action on the federal and global scale," said Wilson.

"It really isn't Whistler's emissions that will cause significant changes in the climate, yet we, like so many other places in society stand to be impacted more than most by the current and predicted conditions.

"It seems in our best interest to do what we can to move the conversation forward. We can only be credible, however, if we are making our own progress on reductions."

EnviroFest, the free environmental education outdoor fair, takes place on Saturday, Sept. 15 at Whistler Olympic Plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be face painting and games for the kids that make learning about the environment fun.

There will also be three workshops — soap making at 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., Re-Build-It Up-cycling from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and sustainable plant and compost techniques from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Space is limited so register at whistler.ca/envirofest2012.

Also new this year, part of Day Lot 4 will be a remote site of the Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It Centre — the perfect opportunity to de-clutter your home.

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