Globe & Mail Gets Progressive … There is hope after all …

Energy-efficient Denmark makes you green with envy

October 8, 2009


Down at Nyhavn Harbour, where old row housing has been turned into chic restaurants and Copenhagen’s iconic sailing ships wait for their next trip to sea, the masses have been arriving to take in an outdoor photography exhibit.

Called 100 Places to Remember Before They Disappear, it’s a collection of images taken around the world of places believed threatened by global warming: the Amazon, Venice, Zahara de la Sierra, the Antarctic. Say what you will about the perceived threats, the pictures are beautiful and sad at the same time.

You don’t need to spend much time in the Danish capital to realize how seriously the people here take climate change. It is probably no coincidence that the next big important conference on the issue will be held in Copenhagen in DenmarkWhile much of the world talks about the problem, the Danes are finding solutions.

How about this stat: The Danes use about the same amount of energy today as they did in 1980. But over that same period of time, the country’s economy has grown by 70 per cent. A tighter focus shows that from 1990 to 2007, economic activity in Denmark grew by 45 per cent while carbon-dioxide emissions were reduced by more than 13 per cent.

Denmark has become synonymous with wind energy. It accounts for 20 per cent of the power generated in the country. Now, the Danes are selling the technology throughout the world and getting rich doing it. The biggest wind-turbine manufacturer in the world, the Danish giant Vestas, can’t fill orders from China and India fast enough. Danish exports of energy technology stood at about $13-billion in 2007.

The Danish utility Dong Energy has entered into an agreement with Project Better Place of California to mass-produce electric cars. Work is under way to build recharging and battery-swapping infrastructure throughout the country to make the project feasible. Cars should start to arrive in a couple of years.

But then, who needs cars? Fifty-five per cent of people living in Copenhagen (population 550,000) ride their bikes to work every day. City officials have estimated that people cycle 1.2 million kilometres, seven days a week. That’s 30 times around the world every day. No wonder you can’t find a fat person anywhere.

Denmark is the most energy-efficient country in Europe. By 2020, 30 per cent of its energy supply will come from renewable sources. All household waste is incinerated to generate heat and power. In Canada, incineration still conjures up images of the technology that hasn’t existed in decades.

Each year, the eco-devoted from around the world make pilgrimages to Samso Island, situated off the east coast of the Jutland mainland.

What’s so special about Samso? In 10 years, it found a way to convert 100 per cent of its energy needs to 100-per-cent renewable energy. So the 4,100 residents now rely on wind turbines for electricity, and solar panels and biomass for heat. The experiment has been written up in all the leading journals in the world and was featured on CBS Evening News.

With the upcoming climate talks, this green mecca is getting set to be invaded by media.

Connie Hedegaard, a former journalist who is now the country’s Minister of Climate and Energy, enjoys rock-star status. She rides her bike to work too – in a skirt and high-heeled boots some days.

Of course, the focus on reducing CO2 emissions had to have come at a brutal cost to the economy. At least, that is what’s supposed to happen, isn’t it? Somehow it didn’t here. Denmark has one of the strongest economies in the European Union. Unemployment is 3.7 per cent. You read that right.

Danish politicians are different too. They’re not afraid to impose taxes to discourage people from driving their cars. A litre of gas costs twice what it does in Canada. Almost half of the cost is tax, which the government collects and uses, in part, to help fund green innovation research.

If only Canadian politicians had some of that spine.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about the virtuous Danes. In any case, the greenest country on the planet doesn’t really care if you’re applauding. The people here figure you’ll be joining them soon enough. They’re just getting a head start.


~ by Cory Morningstar on October 9, 2009.

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