WHEN I first heard it was now illegal in France to leave the door of a shop open when the heating is on, my first reaction was to send every teenager in the country over there to teach them a lesson.
I had to do a double take: A person can really be prosecuted for forgetting to - as my dad used to say - put ‘the wood in’th hole’?
Other variations on this theme when an errant child left a door open on a chilly day included: “Were you raised in a barn?” “Do you live in a tent?” And even “Were you born in an elevator?”
You get the drift.
But it’s true. In France, it is now illegal nationwide for a shop to have a door open when it has its heating on, in a bid to cut down on energy waste. Shops that flout the rule will be fined up to €750.
The country’s Minister of Ecological Transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher - echoing the cries of parents down the ages - declared it was “absurd” to waste energy in such a manner.
And this isn’t the only edict France has announced as it faces into a winter of possible power shortages and outages.
It has also ordered businesses to switch off illuminated neon lighting between 1am and 6am, while homes and offices have to abide by a maximum heat of 19C. There is no hot water in some public buildings, and the temperature in swimming pools and gyms has been reduced.
In fact, when I looked into it, I found that all of our nearest continental neighbours have introduced similar rules in a bid to reduce energy consumption and avoid the lights going out.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, have you heard of any such rules or laws, which would be very easy to introduce?
Even the most outspoken libertarian couldn’t possibly quibble with a law forcing businesses to keep their door closed when the heat was on, or an edict to not turn the heat above an already toasty 19C.
Sure, I have read lots of advice and tips - many in this newspaper - aimed at curbing our energy consumption and thus reducing our bills.
But I have yet to hear Environment Minister Eamon Ryan do anything concrete to reduce our output. What we tend to get from the Green Party leader are mild warnings about possible energy shortages, wrapped up in assurances that this is highly unlikely to happen.
Bear in mind that Ireland relies on the UK for much of its energy needs - and that country’s National Grid recently warned that Britain could face forced power cuts this winter amidst the crisis in energy supply and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Is there a possibility we are guilty of being complacent here? It would be a costly mistake. Because if large tracts of this country’s population do lose power for extended periods of time this winter, the resulting angry backlash could easily bring down Mr Ryan’s Government before the daffodils have made an appearance.
A Government can just about survive a housing crisis and preside over an ongoing health crisis, but woe betide one that can’t even heat and light its people’s homes in the darkest, coldest months.
The really strange thing here is that Eamon Ryan, as a card-carrying environmentalist, should have been pursuing all these energy-saving measures our continental neighbours have introduced anyway - not just to save money now, but to cut down on fossil fuel use permanently.
The Green Party leader is often criticised for some of his more outlandish ideas such as reintroducing wolves and calling for car sharing in rural villages, but many of these energy-saving laws are pure common sense - low-hanging fruit in the battle to save the planet (and money).
Why Mr Ryan has not acted to bring them in here is baffling.
Way back in the summer, Germany announced some new rules to save on energy - and few would have complained if Ireland had followed suit.
Since September, public buildings in Germany, apart from institutions like hospitals, have been heated to a maximum of 19C and the heating may be turned off completely in entrances, corridors and foyers.
Public monuments and buildings are also not being lit up for aesthetic reasons, and businesses face sanctions for keeping their shops illuminated at night.
Private swimming pools in the country are also not allowed to be heated - anyone who gripes about that surely risks being serenaded by the world’s smallest violin!
In Italy, citizens have been told to turn their central heating down by one degree, and off for an extra hour a day. Public buildings will face an extra 15 days without central heating, with a few such as nurseries and hospitals exempt.
Spain has also mandated that heating should not rise above 19C, as well as ordering that doors should be closed to curb heat waste, and that lights in shop windows be turned off by 10pm.
Thus far, Ireland’s response to the energy crisis has been purely financial and reactive.
The €600 hand-out across the winter months, which kicked in from this week, was a huge help, and of course tackling the vast expense of energy for consumers and businesses has to be a priority.
But shouldn’t the Government also be more proactive, and try to curb consumption too? Especially when some of the ways of doing so are unlikely to incur the wrath of voters.
Minister Ryan has admitted that we need to “be clever in the way we use energy, to make sure we manage demand - particularly that we reduce peak time usage, because that saves us money, and reduces the risk of not having enough power”.
But wouldn’t it be clever for him to bring in some of the curbs mentioned here?
The Minister has also pledged to “take a more international approach” to the energy crisis.
Well, he could start by copying some of our greener EU neighbours.