07/18/2013 05:33 EDT | Updated 09/17/2013 05:12 EDT

The Wrong Kind of Chill During a Heat Wave


In the past few days I have received a number of requests form Toronto Hydro asking me to conserve. They have also managed to get CBC to announce a need for conservation on every newscast. So when I went into the Body Shop on Bloor Street in Toronto at midday on Wednesday the 17th, the doors were wide open as if they were trying hard to air condition Toronto. I beat up on them to close the doors and they did. I went past Roots a few moments afterward and the same thing occurred. Their doors were wide open and cold air was pouring out. They were not alone.

So why is it that this happens? These are two good brands that are run by people who want to do good for the world and yet on a day when we were at our peak energy usage for the year and when conservation was truly an imperative they had their doors open and were using far more air conditioning than they should. So I wrote to the CEO and asked him to shut the doors and he acted on it.

So what is wrong with this picture?

I noodled over this last night and when I opened up my e-mail today there as a message from the City of Toronto with a letter attached. And there, if you bothered to open the letter, was a message from the Chief Conservation Officer of Toronto, Chris Tyrrell, someone I know personally and have and with whom I have had many conversations regarding conservation. To be honest, I found it bizarre.

Imagine a fire breaks out in your house and your response is to send an e-mail with a polite request for the fire department to send out a fire truck to put it out. Imagine the fire department never rehearsed this kind of event and the officers sat around the table asking each other what is the best response to deal with the crisis. That's sort of what our Hydro company was doing. Instead of rehearsing regularly and training for the next fire before it occurs they wait to engage residents when a disaster is already underway.

This reinforces the point that a resilient city is one that has an engaged population. It is not only about the infrastructure of the city. Yet when one hears talk of resilience and adaptation all one hears is infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. I would go as far as to say that one will never have resilience without engagement.

What Toronto Hydro and the city should have been doing is engaging us individual citizens regularly around the issue of peak load reduction. We should know what the incentives are, what to do when it is needed etc. It should be second nature so that the shop assistant at Roots or the Body Shop knows its importance and reacts without the CEO intervening. We should have fire drills for peak energy.

The good news is that the Ministry of Energy has finally come round to making conservation a priority. Better still, they have finally become convinced that there might be something to be said for conservation and behavior change.