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Monday, October 22, 2012

Can Comfort Co-exist with Sustainability?

 Article by  Shandra St. Ville

 At the beginning of the century, Saint Lucians were more than content with the cool ocean breeze, the soft glow of a lamp, flambeau or candle light and even the enjoyment of a family gathering around the coal pot as they waited for their meals. Today, our lifestyles have changed immensely. Air conditioning, smart phones and the latest digital entertainment gadgets are very much a part of our lives. Can we really pursue a sustainable development pathway in this age of consumerism? Would this pursuit result in a drastic loss of comfort to our current life? Comfort and Sustainability are not mutually exclusive; we do not always have to choose one or the other. There are times when we may have to choose which is more of a priority for us but with advances in technology we can have both.

Human beings believe that comfort is a vital source for happy living. A good supply of energy can ensure a very comfortable lifestyle for many. Energy is needed so we can use our vehicles for transportation. Electricity allows us to enjoy the many appliances at our homes. However, we all agree that our use of energy at the national and personal level has not been the most efficient.  The impacts of this misuse can be felt on the environment as well as on our pockets. Today, we are surrounded by messages encouraging us to be more energy efficient and to make use of renewable energy when we can. Some of us are still having difficulty embracing these messages because we see it as a drastic change which may push us out of our comfort zone. However, the change may not be as torturous as we may imagine.

The practice of turning off equipment when not in use is not so difficult to adopt and close examination shows that it makes sense. Having the television, radio and video game all running at the same time does not guarantee that you are more thoroughly entertained. Indeed if you chose one and were able to concentrate on just that one then you would be able to get maximum value from that item. If we purchase products such as lamps, appliances and vehicles that use less energy to get the same benefit, we really have not done away with any of our benefits.

Having dealt with energy efficiency let us now consider the use of renewable energy. This may sound like a big leap but it really is not so daunting. Centuries ago our planet ran on renewable energy.  Our boats were powered by the wind and hydro power was very much a part of the sugar industry. Today many homes are already using renewable energy in the Caribbean. Solar water heaters have made this a reality, supplying hot water for a number of residential purposes including bathing, washing and cooking. Hot water is also a vital part of the operations of hospitals, laundries and a number of other industrial activities. Heating water using electricity can be faster but it is a costly undertaking and many persons are now seeing benefits in the use of solar water heaters. Barbados has been a forerunner in the use of solar water heaters in the Caribbean and studies show that over four thousand (4, 000) solar water units have been installed in the past 2 years.  On average, it is estimated that Barbados has saved more than US $6.5 million dollars annually that’s approximately EC $17.5 million dollars, all due to the use of solar water heaters. An assessment of solar heaters in Barbados has shown that the country saved one hundred and thirty thousand (130, 000) barrels of oil every year in addition to tax payers savings of two hundred and sixty million American dollars(US $260, 000, 000).  These data show some significant benefits in pursuing sustainability and at the same time retaining comfort.

The water sector is yet another area where sustainability measures do not have to result in the loss of comfort and convenience. Much of the water flowing from our taps and showers are not actually used for the purposes we intended. The use of measures like low flow head showers will allow us of take a shower as often as we would like without wasting too much water. Many persons are happy to have a healthy lawn surrounding their property. Maintaining the health of the lawn calls for watering on a regular basis. The water for watering does not have to be potable water but could be recycled water from the kitchen sink or water collected through rain harvesting. The same idea can be used for water for cleaning our vehicles. In fact, rainwater harvesting provides an opportunity for us to obtain water for a myriad of uses and simultaneously reduce our water bills.

Wise water and energy habits are just two examples of how sustainable development practices do not necessarily have to reduce on our comfort level but allow us to continue our daily activities whilst reducing spending.  Sound environmental management does not contradict economic development or social development. Advances in Science and Technology can further improve our sustainable development and our level of comfort. For example, the appearances of solar water heaters are being refashioned to make them less conspicuous and more attractive to ensure that they fit into the architectural designs of modern homes. Water cisterns can be designed so that they are not so apparent or they are integrated with another component of the home. These are just some of the ways that we can effectively apply Science and Technology to promote sustainable development in our country.

Play your part and help protect “Mother Earth”, it is where we all live after all!

For more information, contact Ms. Shandra St. Ville of the Sustainable Development and Environment Division of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy and Science and Technology at 451-8746 or