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Northern Europe: the land of the low-carbon economy

Northern Europe: land of the low-carbon economy

At first glance, environmental protection seems to be about technology -- solar panels, turning trash into gasoline, and insulated windows. In reality, legislative and popular support will be vital components of the success of the movement.  While generating public approval for environmental reform has proven troublesome in the United States, other countries have managed to implement legislation, allowing them to be successfully sustainable .

Many of these environmental pioneers are located in Northern Europe, where environmental sustainability is a prioritized factor in political and economic decisions. Contrary to the belief that countries promoting environmental protection do so at the expense of their own economy, most countries with these laws have high levels of economic freedom. Sweden is ranked 20th, Germany 18th, and Denmark tenth; all comparable to the United States’ ranking of 14th.  Less environmentally-conscious countries must acknowledge that there is no definitive correlation between economic freedom and reliance on fossil fuels. Learning from the Northern European example will be a crucial step toward adapting legislation and saving the natural resources that remain.

In Sweden, for example, support from the business sector allows environmental protection and economic growth to thrive simultaneously, without lengthy governmental intervention.  IKEA, a Sweden-based furniture corporation, is a fantastic example.  Committed to complete energy efficiency by 2020,  IKEA has invested in wind farms in Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and several other countries so that its facilities can run exclusively on renewable energy.

Sweden is an also an example of a zero-waste economy in which garbage is turned into raw materials, which are utilized to make a profit. The Swedish environmental protection technology industry is a new leading exporter of such goods, generating 4 billion Euros in annual revenues. This industry has led to the foundation of 700 highly specialized companies that provide jobs to almost 100,000 people, boosting the Swedish economy.

Denmark has also embraced environmentalism in order to become both energetically self-sufficient and turn a profit.  Over the last few decades, the small nation has become a leading producer of wind and solar power. Wind turbines are now commonplace around the country, ranging in location from oceans to fields to the entrance of the port in Copenhagen.  Renewable energy has become a standard part of Denmark’s infrastructure, necessary for the country’s economic success.

The majority of citizens in these environmentally-friendly countries are highly attuned to climate issues. A recent focus of interest is in environmentally friendly housing, including buildings composed of recycled materials and structures that allow residents to harvest rainwater. Sustainability issues are promoted within communities in such an extensive way that the movement cannot be deemed elitist -- it is believed environmentalism is a problem that everyone must take part in solving.

The Northern European countries serve as proof that environmental protection can be economically beneficial. If it is so easy for these countries to make money off of sustainable techniques, some may wonder why companies in the United States, a country with far greater overall resources, are not so ecologically-minded. Some of this disparity is due to a lack of motivation in both the public and private sectors. Additionally, the small, northern countries are unable to generate sufficient power for themselves without significant effort, often relying on energy imports in order to function.  Many Europeans recently tasted the importance of energy efficiency when a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine interrupted natural gas deliveries from Russia to Western Europe. Hopefully, countries without a pressing need to be self-sufficient will come to understand the potential economic benefits of renewable infrastructure before the consequences of dependence on fossil fuels lead them, and our Earth, to destruction.

-Lucy B.

(Art by Pia M-P)