Turning off the lights not enough any more 

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Feels pretty good to see Whistler's name at the top of the list when it comes to saving energy for Earth Hour in B.C., this year.

Whistler reduced energy use by six per cent during the Saturday, March 29, event beating out dozens of B.C. communities for the biggest reduction in the province. Across B.C. Earth Hour saved the energy equivalent of turning off 1.4 million lights.

But before we get carried away let's remember that last year we reduced energy by seven per cent and were 12th in the province. The winners in 2013 were Comox and Courtenay, which tied for first with a 9.8 per cent reduction. In 2012 we were fourth with a reduction of 5.6 per cent.

So, while this year was a great effort, like the bigger challenge worldwide it often seems to be two steps forward and one step back.

A big part of reduction in energy use in the resort overall comes from the work the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has done with the retrofit to Meadow Park Sports Centre and the work at the waste-water treatment plant.

Indeed the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the RMOW's 2012 corporate operations dropped to the lowest level since detailed reporting began in 2006 — corporate GHG emissions are now 22 per cent lower than in 2008 when the RMOW Carbon Neutral Operations Plan was initiated.

The most recent statistics (2011) show the main source of the community's GHG emissions was passenger vehicles (51 per cent), followed by commercial natural gas use (23 per cent) and residential natural gas use (10 per cent).

However, to meet the resort community's GHG reduction targets, Whistler must cut 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of GHG emissions each year until 2020.

We can't rely on technological changes in community systems any more to achieve this — and that's a problem.

According to the RMOW's 2011 Annual Energy & GHG Emissions Performance Summary, "the community-wide energy conservation gains have proven to be largely elusive over the past decade.

"(It) has not followed the same downward trajectory ... In fact, the 2010 and 2011 total estimated community energy consumption were the two highest years ever recorded in Whistler."

As we leave Earth Hour behind us for another year though it is clear that even if we all change our behaviour it may not be enough, in fact it may be that the problem is getting so serious that we may be just wasting our time worrying about GHG emissions on a small scale.

This week saw the release of a report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change," said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

Some have described the report as the most sobering so far from the UN climate panel and, said scientists, the most definitive. I would describe it as frightening. The report — a three-year joint effort by more than 300 scientists — grew to 2,600 pages and 32 volumes.

It warned that governments are ill prepared for a warming world, and if action is not taken soon, risks could become unmanageable. There will likely be decreased crop yields, losses due to forest fires and coastal erosion in North America.

"Climate change is more than just an environmental issue," Ian Bruce, science and policy manager with the David Suzuki Foundation, told the Toronto Star. "This is an economic and security issue that will impact everyone from the biggest cities to the smallest towns."

Last September, the first part of the IPCC said that Canada would continue to see more warming than the global average and extreme weather events will be more frequent and more intense.

This warming creates one of the greatest threats to the economy and life.

According to the report the Arctic could be clear of sea ice in summer within the next few decades, rather than the end of the century as was previously estimated — this is already creating change for the residents of Alaska.

This report also clearly links climate change to food scarcity and even future conflict. It states that global crop yields are declining, and that in some parts of the tropics, fish catches are down 40 to 60 per cent.

The federal government has said in the past that it is on schedule to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from its 2005 level — to slow the Earth's temperature rise. But Environment Canada said last year that the reduction is, in fact, closer to just 0.4 per cent, a fraction of the stated goal.

The ongoing aim of this latest IPCC report is to galvanize governments to act. Scientists hope to persuade everyone that it is past time to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to plan for sea walls and other infrastructure that offer some protection for climate change.

"The one message that comes out of this is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate," said Pachauri.

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