Posts Tagged ‘green’

Wind power? Not in my backyard.

August 26, 2009

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Turns out, Swedes may not be as green as I thought. Or perhaps they’re simply no different than the rest of us gasoline-guzzling, environmentally ignorant consumers who care more about our immediate comfort and convenience than the future of coming generations.

Overheard in the kitchen of immediate Swedish family members just the other day:

“I was so angry hearing this farmer on the island talk about the profits he was making from the wind power he was producing,” my mother bristled. “He had gotten together with some neighbors to construct and operate a wind mill in his back yard, and was making a small fortune. I told him, ‘Don’t you realize that you’re profiting from Swedish tax dollars? You’re making money off the backs of all the rest of us who must pay for this expensive wind power!’

“But he just looked at me and said, ‘But the money I make comes from the wind!'” she continued. “It made me so mad that people don’t understand who’s paying for all this construction of wind mills left and right. We are!”

According to the Swedish Energy Agency, wind power cooperatives such as the one formed by this ignorant Swedish farmer will add another 70 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid during fiscal year 2009-2010. In all, 24,000 people will be members in such cooperatives and boost their share of Swedish wind power production by 20 percent, the agency estimates

The Swedish government wants to grow total wind power production to 30 terrawatt hours annually – up from 2 tWh today. Wind currently accounts for just 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, compared with neighboring Denmark, which gets 20 percent of its power from wind power. (The U.S., the world’s leading wind power nation in terms of capacity, is at close to 2 percent.)

The Swedish government is using energy certificates subsidized by tax dollars to support the wind energy build-out, investments it says must be made to meet tough European Union carbon-dioxide reduction goals.

But some Swedes believe the cost of wind is just too high, especially when the machines pop up along pristine coast lines and in pastoral landscapes where Swedes want to enjoy their lengthy vacations away from the troubles of global warming and energy crises.

Indeed, in my family, the bad-mouthing of wind power stations began when news broke that the spinning turbine blades would soon obscure views from an island in the Baltic that, in my mom’s opinion, was too beautiful and unique for wind mills. (A section of it was, after all, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.)

A movement is afoot to stop the build-out of wind power in the country praised, over and and over again, for being one of the world’s greenest. Grassroots organizations with names such as “Fair Wind” and “Save the Coast” are sprouting up to protest plans by property owners to take advantage of government incentives and erect new wind turbines.

What does all this mean? That people are people, plain and simple. And that nobody is more green than the other when it comes to their own backyard.

Pussstuga

Back in the U.S.A.

November 14, 2008

1075772_the_metro2In the two years that we’ve been overseas, green has – finally – become hip in America.

The subway car that whisks me to work in the morning is sporting ads from Chevron, the oil and gas giant, that urge us to conserve. Close-up portraits of sober citizens proclaim: “I will leave the car at home more” and “I will use less energy.” Wow!

Public transportation ridership has soared in tandem with rising gasoline prices. Americans took 140 million more trips by bus or train during the spring than they did a year earlier, the American Public Transport Association reports. And as investments plummeted in a weakening economy, venture capitalists managed to pour a record $1 billion into renewable energy projects during the third quarter alone.

Change is definitely in the air.

At my workplace, we have blue recycling bins in the office and the lights automatically turn on and off when we come and go. But progress is uneven – or, should I say – half-hearted?

In September, as outdoor temperatures in Washington, D.C., dropped to a comfortable 80 degrees, I piled on sweaters and cranked up the electric space heater next to my desk because the air conditioning was turning my windowless office into an ice box. There was no way to turn it off, our maintenance man explained. I drank hot coffee to keep my fingers from going stiff.

Our fancy coffee maker, however, is another environmental concern. To brew a cup, you stick a small, sealed plastic container with coffee grains in the machine. When your cup has been filled, the now-empty container automatically falls into a trash bin. How much plastic do I go through in one week?

“And why are there only plastic forks in the kitchen drawer and paper cups for coffee?” I ask a co-worker. “Can’t we buy some cheap mugs and silverware at IKEA and just wash them after lunch?” That would never work, he replies. “People would just leave their dishes in the sink and we’d have a mess.”

papermug11At the take-out restaurant downstairs I’ve made a point of telling the woman at the cash register that I don’t need my wrapped sandwich stuck in a plastic bag. “I’ll just grab it like that,” I say, sounding green and chipper. “It’ll save you some plastic!” I get a blank stare in return. She has no idea what I’m getting at and couldn’t care less.

The printer at the office spits out paper all day long. How many trees did we consume in the past month? I soon learn that some of my colleagues print out reports and documents to read and edit on the train home in the evening. The workload is such that tasks can never be completed even if you log eight or nine solid hours in the office and eat lunch at your desk. Best to print it all out and bring with you.

I rarely see people working on their laptops while in transit and I have yet to hear any discussion about deducting such telecommuting time from the regular workday, as many Europeans do. There’s also, still, no wireless access on the trains that run in and out of D.C. So people do it the old way: On paper.

But hey, we’re making efforts where we can. Metro officials are scrambling to put in more bike racks outside the subway stations, because so many more people are biking rather than driving and parking the car there. That’s progress!