Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) did an innovative and democratic thing this year to have an interactive online Budget Allocator to let people try their hands at creating a municipality budget for the area, and submit it for City Council’s consideration. How much consideration each, or all the submissions might get, is another story, but I won’t be cynical here. I want to share my example of a cohesive budget that’s more than just the numbers, with rationale behind the choices, although the numbers are critical to make things work, of course. We’ll see when HRM presents its final budget, if it will do something similar to explain its choices in a way understandable to the general public.
Free public transit is an ideal dreamed of by many cities for its potential impact on everything from everyday life, to the economy, environment, traffic, social equity, innovative and inspirational population mindset, among other benefits. However, it is an ideal not financially feasible in most cities. By chance and circumstance from analysis to be shown, the current budgets of HRM and Halifax Transit can be feasibly adjusted for HRM to offer free public transit, some or all of the time, in many ways to cater to a range of political wills and progressive thinking to pay for it. It is mostly a matter of priorities, with some shifting and/or addition of tax dollars, pending which of many scenarios chosen. HRM’s citizens and City Council only have to commit to becoming a global example in providing free public transit, demonstrating to other municipalities in similar financial scenarios what can be done to revolutionize their public transit systems! Free public transit in HRM, and the progressive mindset of its citizens to help make it happen, would immediately become trademarks of the city’s identity, associating it with qualities like progressiveness, innovation, equitability, and make it the talk of North America and beyond!
HRM can provide all of its current public transit for free on weekends and holidays via any one of the following options:
For about $1 of tax per person per year, or a $2 (toonie) charge per use, the Halifax Skating Oval can be sustained, at the highest cost estimates. It could be as low as 50 cents per use. I’m not encouraging this, but if paying for use of the Oval were a last resort, it could be very affordable and definitely worth its value!
There’s a big debate on whether or not to keep the Canada Winter Games Skating Oval on the Halifax Commons (CBC, Jan 4 2011). A lot of the public is enjoying the facility, but the worry is the cost of maintaining the Oval after the Canada Games are over. The hope is that business support can be found to pay the costs, rather than increasing taxes or having to charge skaters. However, that’s a political solution. This analysis looks at the business case of keeping the oval if the public had to pay for it.
Earth Hour 2010 was yesterday, March 27, and just like in 2009, Nova Scotia was abysmal… almost as much as the results reporting from Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI)
As the main energy supplier of Nova Scotia, NSPI was the designated reporter of results, like in 2009. Just like in 2009, all they reported a power drop number, with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) equivalent for “context”. I don’t doubt they chose it because it sounds impressive when the results weren’t, and I know they can’t be judgmental in reporting to be both, objective and not pan their customers. However, frankly, I expect more from a company that pushes smart meters and no doubt keeps statistical performance data up the ying yang river. They also have a communications department. I’m sure they can report in more detail, objectively, without plastering the general public they serve, and I’m going to call them out on that again this year.
[In 2010], Nova Scotia Power’s energy control centre reported an 18-megawatt reduction in power consumption between 8:30pm and 9:30pm on Saturday evening. This represents an equivalent savings of more than 1.4 million 13-watt compact florescent light bulbs.
— NSPI web page on Earth Hour 2010 results
So if NSPI isn’t going to give the proper analysis and context, I’ll do it for you.
First of all, the 18 megawatt (MW) reduction is an improvement from the 15 MW in 2009 [NSPI]. That we Nova Scotians should give ourselves a small hand for so let’s take a few seconds for that. Why I’m plastering the results will come a little later in the article.
I was not well enough this year to get out and take some pictures of HRM during Earth Hour last year. However, the CBC said our bridge lights were out. That, I know to be an improvement from last year.
It was also colder this year than last, by about 10 degrees Celcius. Lights only comprise a small percentage of our energy usage in such cold climates, of course. So the colder it gets, the less lights would matter. However, from what I can tell, the statistics measured a drop from hour to hour so the value could be attributed mostly to lights. For percentage impact, though, to give more context and comparison across Canada, this knowledge of lights’ percentage share of power usage is useful.
The reported percentage reduction for Halifax in 2009 was one percent (1%), based on 15 MW [Toronto Star for %, NSPI for MW]
Given it was much colder this year, meaning the energy usage base would have been larger, 18 MW would still likely be a 1% drop. It’d have been just 1.2% anyway, even if the temperature was the same as last year, insinuating the same energy usage for heating that would be the major source of the usage on an early spring night. Given it was that much colder this year, a 1% drop is a fair number by my books.
So how did Nova Scotia’s 1% drop compare to the rest of the country? That’s where we were abysmal.
Hey, if Toronto can do 10%, and they are a much larger population than our entire province of Nova Scotia, we can count ourselves abysmal in our efforts. To be fair, as environmental awareness increases, their big drop from 15.1% in 2009 earns them a disappointing rating in my books. It’s all about expectations and context, right?
That said, I’m really going dump on St John, New Brunswick, for not participating during Earth Hour.
“We didn’t really see that much for what we put into it [last year],” city spokesperson Leah Fitzgerald told the Telegraph Journal. She said non-essential lights are already turned off on weekends and overnight.
— Toronto Star
Wow! The environmentalists should be burning whoever made that decision at the stake… if only that didn’t increase CO2 emissions unnecessarily. They completely missed the point of awareness, and should take some accountability for the fact the city maybe didn’t do a good enough job. Did they think St John was the only city in which the light bulb came on regarding Earth Hour being ineffective when over 4,000 cities and over 1 billion people in 121 countries participated world wide? What brilliant environmental strategy and vision is St John known for world wide?
For the record, NB did record a noticeable dip in the power grid during Earth Hour last year, 20 MW [CBC] although it is about awareness, of course, not huge power reductions. It begets the follow-up power reduction from the awareness.
There were no reports yet for other cities, but another story cited Edmonton dropping 11% in 2009, while Calgary dropped 4% [CBC]. Edmonton has called out Calgary on that this year in a challenge which’s results should be interesting to see.
Now, I’m writing and taking those values at face value rather than be a cynic and questioning how much spin might be in them. However, there is no way the margin of error and/or spin could be big enough to make our 1% drop in Nova Scotia a worthy example or a good effort. The improvement is nice to see, but if you want to use Toronto’s 10% as the baseline example of a 100% mark, that’d be nice NS getting an improvement in marks from 10% to 12%. How much would you pat your kid on the back if his/her report cards improved that way?
On another note, the CBC story with NB’s power drop last year also stated
Organizers said the point isn’t to tally the amount of power saved over 60 minutes, but rather to involve as many people as possible to let governments know they are still failing to do enough to combat climate change.
Are they sure on that? How many of those people who participated would be happy if governments came in with actions to force them to change their behaviours for the sake of the environment? Whether regulatory actions to force the issue, or taxes or other incentives, I don’t think a lot of it would make people happy. The extent government would have to go to for more people to ride public transit, for example, would be ridiculous if it were to have significant impact. People will only be happy when they make their own decisions to change their behaviour, and they have to take some accountability for that. They should ask themselves how much are they not doing that they could be doing without government intervention, and see the relative difference they can make just in their own lives, like a reduction in gas or power bill. Then imagine that of society, rather than talking about governments doing more.
Sure, there is lots of room for governments to be doing more on climate change, but that is mostly on an industrial scale. There is some work on the societal level, too, of course. However, at that level, people have to step up more and be accountable rather than constantly holding government accountable to that degree. In psychology, they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. I think people, in large, have to admit this first before they’re going to get anywhere. They have to admit they are the problem when it comes to climate change on a societal level. That includes me, of course, but I’ve been working to improve for many years now, and always believe I could be doing more.
Furthermore of psychology, that’s what it’s going to take government to change society’s behaviour. Sure, regulations, tax incentives, information and the like, will have some impact. But I believe if you want to change people’s behaviour, you have to really know how they behave. A lot of social marketing theory is based upon this, being the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. So it then comes down to this, people, as a society:
Admit you have a problem and solve it yourselves, or government will scope your mind and “persuade” you to. 🙂
I’m using sinister language for humour, of course, but it ain’t far from the truth that is never easy to swallow.
I’ll be back with more Earth Hour results as they come online.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 9.3
Below are some of favourite photos among the many I had taken prior to 2010 of the Halifax Regional Municipality, mostly around the harbour close to which I live. Brief descriptions are below the gallery.
Please click on thumbnail you want to see a larger version. If the picture is cut off by the website layout, please click on it again to get the picture alone (then click the Back button on your browser to return to the site). Comments are with each picture.