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Energy alternatives viable for Whistler

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In addition to trapping heat, greenhouse gases block the sunlight from reaching the earth, which will effectively starve plants. Carbon dioxide levels are already higher than at any point in the last 100,000 years, and will double to more than 700 parts per million in the next few decades.

"What effect is that going to have on the ski industry?" asks Aitken.

Rising temperatures will melt glaciers, and could eventually cause flooding in coastal areas. Higher temperatures and concentrations of carbon dioxide are already being blamed for recent unpredictable weather phenomena that are putting insurance companies out of business. Nine of the 10 hottest years in the past century were recorded in the 1990s, as were some of the most violent storms.

While people are debating whether global warming is real or not, insurance company pay-outs climbed to $100 billion from 1987 to 1996, more than triple what was paid between 1980 and 1989.

That said, Aitken believes that the transition to alternative fuels is possible without affecting industry or our way of life – provided that energy efficiency and conservation measures are introduced now.

High efficiency appliances, such as ovens and refrigerators, are the easiest way to start the transition.

"One energy-efficient bulb can save the burning of 400 pounds of coal in its lifetime," he says.

Another concept that has been effective is daylighting, a process whereby companies put in skylights, light wells and windows to use existing daylight.

"Between 40 and 60 per cent of energy costs in an office building are lighting. Why?" asks Aitken. "Most of us work during daylight hours, and the sun is free."

Examples of architecture optimized to take advantage of daylight can be found as far north as Scandinavia, but the idea is only now being rediscovered by many architects.

Lockheed Martin recently incorporated daylighting in an office in New Mexico, expecting an energy payback in five years. "What they discovered is that employee absenteeism went down 15 per cent, and the benefits of lower absenteeism paid it back in one year," says Aitken. "People love to work in this building and productivity has gone up."

The Walmart chain of stores also discovered that sales were 50 per cent higher under the store skylights at one location, and are planning to add skylights to all of their locations in the near future.