Eden Mills --

first carbon neutral town on the continent?


I was watching the news on Wednesday night when I happened to cue in to a report about a small town called Eden Mills, just on the outskirts of Milton, with a population of 350.

This little town is making a conscious decision to turn away from the kind of progress that is symbolized by the monster homes being built outside large urban centres.  It has decided, as a town, to travel a different road.  It wants to become the first carbon neutral community on the continent.

Now, achieving zero net carbon dioxide emissions won't be easy, particularly, given that many of the town's residents must travel a fair distance to work in urban centres such as Guelph, Kitchener, Cambridge and Toronto. Most of the homes also heat with oil or propane, have air conditioning, and use electric water heaters.

To create a carbon neutral community with a zero balance will, undoubtedly, create high demands on the entire town. Reducing emissions, substituting renewable energy for energy based on fossil fuels and removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, will all demand living a dramatically different lifestyle with a definitely smaller environmental footprint.

Apparently, Charles and Anna Simon, initiated the idea when they returned home to Eden Mills in June from a visit to Ashton Hayes in England.  Ashton Hayes is striving to become England's first carbon neutral village and claims, on its website (www.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk), to have reduced CO2 emissions by 20 per cent in its first year.

On their return, the Simons asked people into their home to discuss the idea.  Among those who came and who immediately embraced the idea, were Glenn and Libby Little.  Fortunately, the two couples have a common ground where the environment has always been of paramount interest.

Charles Simon is an architect who has designed environmentally advanced buildings and the Littles live in an unusual home, that Simon helped design, and that is constructed from straw bales.  As a result of their own lifestyle and seeing the value in the construction, the Littles have been trying to persuade the local district school board to construct straw bale classrooms as a substitute for some of the 180 portables now in use.

According to the group that has been expanded from the two couples,  "It's about changing the way we live."  "Everything is so scattered," says Simon, "that reducing the amount of driving will be a major problem.   For us, it's necessary to go to a nearby town even for routine shopping. A bike path and car pooling can only help so far and a more comprehensive solution is needed."

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With Eden Mills' proximity to urban centres, one of the biggest detriments occurred with the end of the Toronto Suburban Railway, an electric railway that no longer exists.  According to Simon, "It was simply a long streetcar line."  It ran from Toronto's west end to Guelph, passing approximately three kilometres south of Eden Mills.   Unfortunately, just prior to the Great Depression, it was abandoned but, were it operational today along with the rail lines that were discarded, it would solve a myriad of transportation problems

Over the immediate future, Eden Mills' organizers are going to be working with the University of Guelph to accurately measure the environmental footprint of households.  Not only will they record emissions from heating and cooling, appliances, and transportation, they will repeat the survey every year for the first five years to measure any progress from each household. The university is also going to help develop plans for planting trees in order to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

The Erin Mills group also intends to create a 'scientific advisory board'  to help with ongoing advice, to launch educational initiatives, to generate renewable energy and to encourage the reduction of fuel consumption.

"With global warming advancing, sleepwalking into the future is not an option", says Simon. "We're not powerless. Together we can do things."

Will this initiative be easy?  Definitely not.  Is it a start?  Absolutely.

Maybe they can inspire other communities to do the same.  Most people want to do something, they just don't know what it is.  Food clubs, alternative energy, bike trails .. they are all meaures that hopefully will make a difference.

In my opinion, Saugeen Shores could be doing much more than it is.  We live in what, up to now, has been one of the most pristeen areas anywhere but already the changes have begun.   The footprint is becoming larger every year.

It's up to all of us to make a difference.  We have to be able to look at our kids and say ... at least we tried

Sandy Lindsay/Editor