Earth Hour – Such a Waste

Yesterday (March 31st 2012) millions of people around the world pretended to reduce their energy usage by turning off the lights and living in darkness for one hour. All in an effort to feel good about the wasteful consumer focused lifestyle they live the other 8759 hours of the year. Oh and also as a token effort to increase awareness of global warming.

The first Earth Hour was held in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. Since then, more than 120 countries have participated in this cathartic display for the  purging of our eco-sins.

Now I know I run the risk of being  jumped by the truly green few that read these pages so I will do this disclaimer: I went to university to study environmental issues and environmental policy. My honors thesis was on Energy use, and Sustainable Energy Sources. I am a card carrying Green Party member. I just find eco-tokenism to be an hinderance to real change.

The noble ideal behind Earth Hour is that by consciously living in a more more eco-friendly way – even if only for those 60 minutes – it may change the way we live the other 8759 hours.

If you did participate by turning off all those things you didn’t really need during that hour – how much could it hurt to only turn things on when you actually need them!

If you think Earth Hour actually saves energy or reduces carbon emissions, well I have bad news for you. The power grid is designed to meet peak projected demands. Electricity is constantly being created and fed into the grid in the expectation that it MAY be needed. Power generation plants do not turn on/off based on current consumption. In fact in Ontario, Canada the local power system had to dump electricity during an unexpected warm-spell in January – by paying others to take it!

If you want to reduce overall energy generation (and our total carbon footprint) then you need to reduce your energy use all the time.  This changes the peak energy expectation – and then our energy generation stations will reduce their output based on averaging.

Earth Hour does start the conversation and is an opportunity for us all to look at our lifestyles and make real changes.

Below are some suggestions from WWF Canada on how to make a real change:

  • Leave the car at home. Consider walking instead of driving. You’ll get more exercise and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Eat local. Your food will be fresher and will save harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Fly less. Enjoy a local vacation close to your home.
  • Be energy efficient. Opt for home appliance with a high energy efficiency. It’s better for the planet and will help you save money.
  • Use Green Power. Research if there are green energy providers in your area thatb provide your home with power generated from renewable energy sources.
  • Get a Home Energy Audit. It will show you how your home uses energy and where you can make improvements. It could result in hundreds of dollars in energy savings each year.
  • Hang Dry your clothes. Instead of using your energy-guzzling dryer, hang your clothes outside or in your laundry room.
  • Unplug unused appliances and electronics. Electrical devices draw energy even when they’re not switched on.

Faking Happiness has a Downside

Turn that frown upside down! We’ve all heard that advice with the theory being that if you act happy, and seem to be happy, and use those smile muscles – well gosh darn it all you will be happy!

Turns out that isn’t likely and in fact can end up making you feel even more miserable. Faking it is bad for your health

The study focused on bus drivers, and found when the drivers were having  a bad day and put on a smile and an outwardly happy appearance the bad mood actually worsened. Merely pretending to be happy just made things worse.

This seems to run counter to the advice in “turn that frown upside down” and shows that merely pretending to be happy – or at least pretending not to be unhappy – doesn’t resolve the real issues. And when you think about it that way it does make sense. Putting on a mask – no matter how cheerful is still putting on  a mask. The underlying emotion and reasons for those emotions are not being addressed. Avoidance is not a solution.

The study does go on to indicate that actually trying to replace the inner mood with happy memories and recalling pleasant experiences can alleviate the unhappy mood.  While this is also an avoidance of the real cause, it is a technique that draws on the individuals inner-self to help lift the feelings of unhappiness. Basically in order to be happy one needs to find a reason to be happy!

The positive aspect of the study is that we can take control of unhappy thoughts and emotions by making a focused effort. It seems that like so many things in life happiness takes work!

My own approach to dealing with feeling down  or just feeling blah is to take a moment to be grateful for what I have and what I have experienced. We live in an amazing world – and I live in an amazing and wonderful society and I am lucky to have been born and lived in Canada. Yes there are problems and things I wish could be different – but overall it has been a pretty darn good ride.

I am amazed at how unhappy people can make themselves by focusing on their unmet “wants”.  Things like “I wish I had a better car”; or a “better computer”; or some other better “toy”. If you can read this blog post then you are way ahead of the majority of the world.

Yes I know there are people around me that really do have good reason to be unhappy. And I don’t expect them to simply think their unhappiness away. But being unhappy and wallowing in that unhappiness will not solve the problem. Nor will the bland and annoying advice to “turn that frown upside down”. Real change takes effort – what are you going to do to make yourself happy? And what are you going to do to help others move towards happiness?

There is no need to fake it when the real thing is so much better!


Money is Time and Debt is Slavery

I have been pondering time. I am celebrating a birthday in a few days and every tick of the calendar into yet another year marks the passing of more time.

There is a saying that “time is money” meaning that to waste time is to waste money. It is a loss of productivity. I think that saying is only partially true.

There is a flip side to that concept and that is to think of money as time. Now that may seem like an odd thing to say or even read. Some might say that money is not time but a measure of value, or worth. However, I would argue  that all we ever really have is time – and a rather finite amount of time. And it is the spending of time that then creates value, and so the utilization of time is measured in money.

Consider this: you are paid in some value/hour. Here in Canada we measure that in dollars so we will say dollars/hour. Now the typical Canadian worker apparently earns around $40,000/year, and typically works a 40 hour work-week to earn that wage. So 40 hours times 52 weeks gives us 2080 hours of labour, and $40,000/2080 is about $19.25/hour. I like to be simple so let us say the typical wage earner gets $20/hour.

Now at $40,000/year the typical worker would pay 15% in federal taxes and around 10% in provincial (this will vary by province) so for illustration purposes about 25% in taxes. So about $10,000 in taxes. Now ponder that in terms of time – 25% of 2080 is 525 hours. That is 525 hours of your labour just to pay the government.

Think of how you might have spent that time doing other things…

Now apparently the typical Canadian is about $115,000 in debt.

If the typical Canadian earns $20/hour how long do they have to work to pay off the debt?

Basic math is $115,000/20 = 5750 hours of labour.
5750/2080= 2.8 years

Oh but wait we already noted the government takes 25% of our time.
Okay re-calculate: 5750/1560 = 3.7 years

Of course that is assuming all one does is use their time to pay off the debt.
And it assumes that the debt has no interest – and well we know that debt does have a penalty to bear.

We have been too simple it seems – so lets add in some basic living. Various sources place the yearly income required for a single person to meet all their basic needs at around $20,000/year. That $20,000 will cover all the costs of living (food, shelter, clothing, health etc).

If you earn $40,000/year – right off the bat you require $20,000/year to live a basic lifestyle. Okay so 50% of your wages are gone.

Now back to our debt that would take 5750 hours to pay off at $20/hour.

Well, we only have 1040 hours to use for that debt payment:
5750/1040= 5.5 years of your working life.

OH and plus Interest. Gotcha…

Let us assume 5% interest on the entire time-debt amortized over the 5.5 years of payback. Well 5% each year compounded monthly would add over 950 hours of payback time…so almost another full year (with more interest on that year)…

In the end it seems that if an average worker with an average debt living a basic lifestyle and paying every extra cent toward debt reduction it would take them about 6.5 years of working to pay off the debt.

That isn’t too bad really – of course the reality is we wouldn’t ever be so dedicated to paying off the debt. At best we might dedicate 25% of our free income to debt reduction – because we certainly want to enjoy life. And typically much less…

And we might want to buy other things on credit and run up more debt. Borrowing against our future time – pledging hours from tomorrow and next month and next year to get what we want now.

And that 6.5 years of debt servitude becomes 15 years…and 20 years…

My point after all that really really over-simplification is before you borrow money think about how much time it will cost you in the future – and how many other things you will be giving up for that “gotta have it now” itch.

Your time is limited so spend it wisely…