Denmark, so I thought, was generally considered a fairly "green" country - between dedicated bike lanes, gasoline taxes, and getting 20% of its electricity from wind power, I thought that Denmark was doing pretty well. I, like Ida Auken did for us that day, had read Thomas Friedman's August 9th column about Denmark's great focus on renewable energy:
Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)
What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent. ...
So you can understand I was shocked when she finished reading Friedman's column only to say that it was a completely untrue account of the situation here. "But that's what I've seen," I thought. Everyday I ride my bike to the train station and then get in the packed train with thousands of other commuters, many who then continue to bike once in the city, and we pass a multitude of wind turbines on the way.
Maybe it was just this politician, I said to myself. She had, in fact, told us a few minutes earlier that as a political stunt to encourage a congestion tax to drive into Copenhagen she raced her friend from the Liberal Party into the city - Auken on her bike and her friend in her car - during rush hour (Auken won). So maybe she just was "overly" environmentalist or something? Denmark is REALLY GREEN... right?
But then she began to tell us how Denmark, which HAD been an environmentalist country, had been falling off in recent years do to inactivity and changing perceptions in the government. Though I haven't fact-checked her statements myself, the fact that she shot down Denmark's "green" status was still alarming.
Part of it is just that Auken believes Denmark has greater potential - she wants Copenhagen, for instance, to be carbon-neutral by 2030 by having 60% fewer emissions and purchasing 40% worth of credits elsewhere - but in recent years, she said, the government has took down more wind turbines then it has put up, fewer people are biking, and fewer people are taking public transportation, which she said had its funding cut recently.
"It shouldn't be a moral choice not to drive, but a practical choice," she said. While she may have won her bike race into the city, she said that public transportation is nowhere near to the fastest, most convenient, or cheapest commuting option (my commute does cost around $5 each way). She said she's been trying to put the government in charge "in a wheelbarrow" and push them along towards making Denmark greener, but it has been challenging. The Climate Minister, in Auken's eyes, says lots of great things, but actually does nothing. The Prime Minister even praised President Bush on a recent visit for being such a "green" person. Wow.
I have yet to truly see it though. This past weekend on my class trip to Odense on the island of Funen (will post later - we visited a really cool TV station, TV2, the leading competitor to the public station here) we drove past hundreds of turbines, all creating enormous amounts of energy. My commute takes 20+ minutes on the train, and the trains come every 10 minutes. I see hundreds of people biking all the time.
Maybe the government is doing a good job of putting on a face of environmentalism, but if Denmark - which IS still considerably environmentalist - isn't doing that well, what does it say about us?