Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lowfoot Paying You

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "PayPal incentives for 'footprint' reductions".

Even as Earth Hour approaches, the electricity talk is mostly about how much we have to pay. But I’ve found a way for my electric meter to pay me back, and you can do it too, improving our energy situation at the same time!

This amazing new program is called Lowfoot. It’s not a utility or marketer, but a social enterprise. The name refers to the idea of “ecological footprint”, a measure of your personal impact on nature. Burning fossil fuels, over-consumption and waste all increase your footprint. Efficiency, alternative energy and organic practices lower it. You can also lower it by changing how you use electricity, and that’s what Lowfoot is all about. Electricity use has costs we don’t fully pay, so changes can make savings you wouldn’t normally receive. Lowfoot helps correct that by paying you to save.

How does it work? First, sign up to access your smart meter online: grab your electric bill, go to your utility’s website, and follow their instructions. Once you have a password, you can enroll at Give them permission to access your smart meter to check your electricity usage. Then start conserving, and they start paying you. That’s all!

What do they pay you for? Lowfoot accesses your historical usage to set your personalized reduction benchmark. When you beat that benchmark, you accumulate credits. At the end of each month, Lowfoot pays you for those credits via PayPal.

There are three ways to earn credits. The first is the simplest: reduce your total electricity used. The less you use, the less the province must generate or buy. Since electricity is subsidized, these savings reduce provincial expenditures.

The second is a bit more complicated: shift your use from peak to off-peak times, the same way you get time-of-use savings from your smart meter. By reducing peak demand, you save the province having to provide expensive stand-by power, or buy extra power at a premium during costly peak times. Using a kilowatt-hour less on a sunny summer afternoon saves you 10 cents on your bill, but can save the province a dollar or more in real costs. Lowfoot gives you some of that dollar.

The third way is the most complex: reducing carbon emissions. This is calculated based on the electricity supply mix when you use it. Avoid using power when coal plants are burning, reduce your carbon footprint, and Lowfoot gives you credit.

That’s it. To help you earn credits (and money), Lowfoot provides tips on reducing or shifting your electric use. They also let you share your own tips, and even win prizes for the most popular. So why wait? Sign up, conserve, and start earning today!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Greens support income splitting

This letter to the editor appeared in yesterday's Barrie Advance (online edition).

BARRIE – In “Redefine taxes to recognize both partners” in the March 15 Advance, Beverly Smith writes that a better way to help Canadian families would be to allow all families (not just pensioners) to split their incomes to get a fairer tax rate. This would recognize the family unit, and that each person contributes, even if they don’t have the same cash income.

The Green Party of Canada fully supports this idea; it was in our platform for the 2008 election, and will be there again if we go to the polls this spring. In today’s tough times, our seniors aren’t the only ones facing financial strain.

Greens recognize that families with varying incomes are penalized by our tax system. Allowing income splitting will help in many situations, not only when one partner chooses to stay home rather than work, but also when one of two working partners is laid off or between jobs. In today’s job market, that applies to a lot of people. It will be a boost to families where one keeps a paying job while the other starts a new or home business, which often brings several years of low (or no) income. And it recognizes that many “non-working” spouses actually contribute significant labour through volunteer work, childcare, elder care, or other supportive efforts.

The time for full income splitting has come. It’s fair, and in our budget it’s affordable.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins
Green Party of Canada
National Revenue Critic

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earth Hour Super-Drive expands for 2nd year

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Earth Hour Super-Drive full of good ideas"

How often can you help four good causes at once? The Earth Hour Super-Drive gives you that chance.

Founded last year and expanded for 2011, it combines e-waste collection, food and clothing drives. Earth Hour teaches us to go without electricity for an hour, but you may notice devices you can go without forever; this is your chance to see them properly recycled instead of ending up in landfill or wasting space in a closet, basement, attic, or garage.

Lately I’ve noticed more things fall into the category of e-waste. Not just computers or cell phones, nowadays it seems like everything has some kind of computer chip or electronic function, and all become e-waste.

A father of two, I’m amazed how many of today’s toys seem to flash, beep, talk, or move. Even fast food giveaways are battery-powered. In my childhood a stuffed animal was voiced by imagination. Now whenever you pass one, it starts counting or singing a song, even crawling toward you. If your kids have outgrown (or out-played) such toys, add them to the e-waste list.

And that wonderful kitchen device from late-night infomercials? The gadget from the “as-seen-on-TV” catalog? If it no longer makes your life paradise and instead gathers dust in a closet, bring it. Anything electrical: with a plug, batteries, or a chip – is e-waste and our local partner GreenGo Recycling will process it for you. Let’s see if we can double last year’s 2500 lbs of recovered e-waste.

Meanwhile, we are again helping the Barrie Free Clothing Centre and the Elizabeth Fry Society’s Grocery Assistance Program (GAP), plus new this year, the David Busby Street Centre. Barrie Free Clothing accepts gently-used apparel, so please clear out your closet of outgrown or unused items to live a new life in new hands. The GAP has been helping so many hungry Barrie citizens that their cupboard is bare; anything you donate will go straight to those in need. And the David Busby Street Centre has a new outreach van distributing daily necessities to the homeless; please help stock it for this vital mission.

Bring your e-waste, clothing, or food donations to the parking lot off Toronto Street north of Dunlop, between 9 am and noon on Saturday, March 26th. Or if you need, we can even take it from your driveway that morning. Just email or call (705)770-4163 by Friday to arrange pick-up.

If you come by you’ll see everyone helping, from local youth and Barrie’s new provincial Green Party candidate Andrew Miller right on up to Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner.

(If you’d like to join us for lunch with Mike after the Super-Drive, contact Scottland by March 19th.)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Youth climate forum engaging for students

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner

Popular media paint today's teens as self-absorbed, apathetic, or disengaged.

But last month's Youth Forum on Climate Change at Bear Creek Secondary School proved those stereotypes wrong. The youth I saw were interested, engaged and filled with a passion for positive action to make our world a better place.

The event was hosted by science teacher Marty Lancaster, who also facilitates Bear Creek's Apollo Project, where students buy and install solar panels at the school to earn money for more panels or other environmental projects.

Through my Green Party connections, I brought two top-notch speakers to meet the large, enthusiastic group and draw out their ideas. Billed as 'a teen activist and a former teen activist', they were climate project presenter Corrina Serda, and Canadian writer Elizabeth May.

Serda is a second-generation climate presenter. Following in her mother Victoria's footsteps, she became the youngest officially trained presenter at age 11, and has twice since attended advanced training in Nashville directly from former vice-president Al Gore.

Now 14, she has presented more than 150 times to a total of more than 35,000 people, making her one of the top-10 climate project presenters worldwide. Last year, Ontario's Lieutenant General recognized her with the Junior Citizen of the Year Award.

Herself a young teen, Corrina's example of action and results helps galvanize young audiences like those at Bear Creek, demonstrating they, too, can make a difference.

Our second speaker, Elizabeth May, shares a similar background.

She also began environmental activism before her teenage years, and over the following four decades has seen huge positive results. Environmental lawyer, policy advisor in Mulroney's environment ministry, founder of Sierra Club Canada, she has shepherded many initiatives, including the reduction of acid rain and the Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer.

The author of seven books, including Global Warming for Dummies, for her efforts and successes May was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. She shared much experience about how to influence policymakers.

After learning from the climate action experts, the students broke into groups to devise projects and events they could enact at their school to reduce ecological impact.

After more than a decade away from the classroom, I loved working with students face-to-face again. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of their knowledge and ideas, and their willingness to break out of old ways and showcase something better.

Between Earth Hour (March 26) and Earth Day (April 22), Bear Creek Secondary School programs an entire month of environment- themed activities.

I fully expect some of the ideas developed at this Youth Climate Forum to be put into action by the participants, and look forward to attending their amazing events.


Elizabeth May was not only in Barrie to speak at the school, but also to make dinner for us. Why? Because last summer the Green Party of Canada had a national membership recruitement contest, and Barrie won the grand prize - a home-cooked meal from our leader! This is another exciting sign that Green Party strength continues to grow in Barrie!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.