Energy alternatives viable for Whistler 

Start with buildings says alternative energies expert

Whistler may not be the most solar-friendly place on earth, but according to green energy guru Dr. Donald Aitken there is still a huge potential to use green heating and lighting alternatives, and cut both our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

"What we’ve learned from the examples we have is absolutely applicable to the town of Whistler and its unique environment," Aitken told a crowd of more than 300 residents who attended his presentation at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Oct. 25. He was the first in a series of five guest speakers being brought to town by The Natural Step early adopters to introduce the Whistler Sustainability Initiative and The Natural Step framework for sustainability to the community.

Aitken is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on renewable energy. He currently trains architects and engineers in practical and sustainable building design.

Because commercial and residential buildings are a leading consumer of energy and producer of greenhouse gas emissions, Aitken believes that, "buildings are the starting point for energy efficient policies." A more energy-efficient and energy-conserving building makes energy alternatives, such as wind power and solar power, more viable because less power is required.

He doesn’t see an immediate end to the consumption of fossil fuels, but a gradual shift over the next few decades.

"All our power is yesterday’s sunshine, brought in by photosynthesis and concentrated in the earth with the decay of plants and animals more than 5 million years ago," says Aitken. "Think of it as a gift. The world is giving us the gift of fossil fuels to power the transition to the post fossil-fuel era."

The industrial era has evolved from wood-powered turbines, to coal, to oil and natural gas, with periods of overlap and each fuel peaking about 60 years apart. By Aitken’s estimation, we’re already on the downside of the oil and gas peak, and at some point in the near future the use of alternative fuels will overtake gas and oil.

Provided, of course, that we are willing to make the transition.

"The worst thing we could do is to slide down to the bottom of that curve when all the oil and gas runs out and say ‘what are we going to do now?’"

In addition to fossil fuel shortages, mankind is facing threats from global warming and declining air quality. Failure to address those issues in the long-term will affect towns like Whistler as, among other things, the glaciers recede.

A one degree Celsius rise in the average temperature in the last century has already caused the snowline to recede up the mountainsides by more than 500 metres in some areas. If we continue to increase our fuel consumption at current levels, a further three degree rise is probable by the end of this century.

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