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Solutions & sustainability - Oct 9

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What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.?

elisabeth rosenthal, yale environment 360
It was late and raining this summer when I approached the information desk at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport to inquire about how best to get into the city center. “The fastest is the train, but there are also busses,” the guide said.

“Are there taxis?” I inquired, trying hard to forget the reminders on the Arlanda website that trains are "the most environmentally friendly” form of transport, referring to taxis as “alternative transportation” for those “unable to take public transport.”

“Yes, I guess you could take one,” he said, dripping with disdain as he peered over the edge of the counter at my single piece of luggage.

I slunk into the cab, paid about $60 and spent the 45-minute ride feeling as guilty as if I’d built a coal-fired plant in my back yard. (Note: The cabs at Arlanda are hybrids.) Two days later, although my flight left at 7 a.m., I took the Arlanda Express. It cost half as much and took 15 minutes to the terminal.

...But even as an American, if you go live in a nice apartment in Rome, as I did a few years back, your carbon footprint effortlessly plummets. It’s not that the Italians care more about the environment; I’d say they don’t. But Europe’s environmental consciousness certainly has its own blind spots. the normal posh apartment in Rome doesn’t have a clothes dryer or an air conditioner or microwave or limitless hot water. The heat doesn’t turn on each fall until you’ve spent a couple of chilly weeks living in sweaters. The fridge is tiny. The average car is small. The Fiat 500 gets twice as much gas mileage as any hybrid SUV. And it’s not considered suffering. It’s living the dolce vita...
(28 Sept 2009)


My dream of a zero-waste Goa

Clinton Vaz, Guardian weekdly
I grew up being aware of the environment around me. Although we lived in Margao, a city in Goa, we often travelled to our village where we would spend hours playing in the fields. In 1999, my family moved back to the village house. That was when I noticed contrasts between city and village life and the slaughter waste and trash being dumped into the once lovely Sal river.

I was concerned and I wanted to do something. I took photographs and put them on the internet, looking for help with solutions to the problem. I attended a Goa Foundation workshop on composting in 2000 and began collecting information about the process. People from all over started sending me information for my file. Word spread and I began to be known locally as someone concerned about the environment.

At only 19 and still a student, I was looking for ways to increase my pocket money. Recycling dry waste is an excellent way to generate cash, so I took charge of the activity for my household. Segregating dry waste into paper, plastic and glass was easy, and so was the money.

...At that time Goa had a major garbage crisis. Waste piled up everywhere and the threat of disease loomed. I was becoming known as someone interested in waste management and although I had no formal qualifications in the field, I was invited by the local municipal commissioner to help them with the crisis by researching it and recommending solutions.

It took me five months to complete a report with photographs documenting the 50 tons of garbage that the city generated each day, along with a breakdown of the kind of waste it contained. The city of Panjim needed about 175 composting units to manage its waste. We had, at the time, barely three.
(22 Sept 2009)


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(19 Sept 2009)


From Turbines and Straw, Danish Self-Sufficiency

John Tagliabue, The New York Times
The people of this Danish island have seen the future, and it is dim and smells vaguely of straw.

With no traffic lights on the island and few street lights, driving its roads on a cloudless night is like piercing a black cloud. There is one movie theater, few cars and even fewer buses, except for summer, when thousands of tourists multiply the population.

Yet last year, Samso (pronounced SOME-suh) completed a 10-year experiment to see whether it could become energy self-sufficient. The islanders, with generous amounts of aid from mainland Denmark, busily set themselves about erecting wind turbines, installing nonpolluting straw-burning furnaces to heat their sturdy brick houses and placing panels here and there to create electricity from the island’s sparse sunshine.
(29 Sept 2009)


The Return of the American Prairie

Steve Chapple, Reader's Digest
Watching bison up close is mesmerizing, like watching a grass fire about to leap out of control. With their huge, wedge-shaped heads and silver-dollar-size brown eyes, the 2,000-pound animals are symbols of another place and time. More than 100 bison now roam the 30,000-acre American Prairie Reserve in eastern Montana—the first time they've inhabited that region in a century. Direct descendants of the tens of millions of bison that once populated the Western plains, they represent an epic effort: to restore a piece of America's prairie to the national grandeur that Lewis and Clark extolled two centuries ago.

During that famous expedition across the Western states to the Pacific, the two explorers encountered so many bison that they had to wait hours for one herd to pass. Back then, the grizzly bear was also a creature of the prairie, feeding on buffalo carcasses and calves. Vast villages of prairie dogs provided tasty meals for hawks, eagles, and the now-endangered black-footed ferret.

...And the region remains a trove of biodiversity. Plovers, curlews, and dozens of species of songbirds breed here. Sage grouses, though greatly reduced in number, still do a fancy fandango of a mating dance on the springtime prairie.

In its quest to protect what's here and reintroduce long-gone wildlife (something the World Wildlife Fund is helping with), the American Prairie Foundation began purchasing land from local ranchers in 2004. It now owns 30,000 acres and has grazing privileges on another 57,000. Its goal over the next 25 years is to assemble three million acres, the largest tract of land devoted to wildlife management in the continental United States.
(Oct 2009)

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