February 20, 2006
Hey, if Jonah can do it, so can I. I'm looking for some dramatic examples of European foresight and action on environmental sustainability issues -- programs, EU requirements, think tank reports, that sort of thing. I'd have though this easy, but it's proving a bit trickier than I'd hope. Help would be hugely appreciated. Extra points awarded for off-the-beaten path efforts to utilize renewables in non-traditional sectors (say, construction). Pretty please?
February 20, 2006 | Permalink
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The EU just announced a new biofuels strategy that's quite a bit more sophisticated than recent US discussions of the subject.
Posted by: Jeff at sustainablog | Feb 20, 2006 9:49:49 AM
If you're trying to go for a Europe-good-US-bad angle I don't know how helpful these will be since they tend to be extremely flawed in practice, but here are some potential examples:
The most obvious one is high fuel duties. It's hard (at least for me as a non-economist) to determine how much difference these have made, when you consider that Europe is much more densely populated than the US and hence
suitable for mass transit. Nevertheless, it has to have made some difference. Most people who live in major cities simply do not need a car. Many still have them, especially those with families, but they use them less and the cars are more efficient.
Road charging: the US probably has more toll roads than Europe, but as far as I know the UK is the only country to have a city-based congestion charge. It's almost certainly also the only country considering satellite monitored road-charging for all cars and roads, although I'd be amazed if they got that past the motoring lobby.
Emissions trading - for all Bush's talk of market solutions to climate change, it's Europe that has an emissions trading system up and running. Unfortunately a typical fossil fuel power plant gets around 90% of its emissions allowance free of charge, limiting the productive impact of the programme.
Renewables: under the EU's renewable energy directive, there is a formal target of for renewable electricity production of 12% by 2010. To this end there are EU wide subsidies for renewable energy research (Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are world leaders in wind power), the above trading regime, and national energy use levies and consumer subsidies for "green electricity".
Fishing quotas: European fishermen are subject to quotas which should in theory help maintain fish stocks. Clearly they're not working, as cod stocks (in particular) have collapsed in the last decade.
GM foods: again a mixed bag. The EU's (now expired and ruled against by the WTO) moratorium on GM foods had mixed motives - it was driven more by almost certainly unjustified consumer health concerns than legitimate economic and environmental concerns - but it has had the effect of preventing the spread of, for example, GM Bt resistance to weeds. It has also allowed our understanding of how GM crops interact with the environment to improve such that we can better manage the risks.
On the negative side, and it's a huge one, the CAP's production quotas incentivise intensive, environmentally destructive agribusiness. Britain is shifting toward a "land stewardship" subsidy model, and is trying to persuade the rest of the EU to go the same way.
Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 20, 2006 10:10:32 AM
If you're looking for such stuff then begin in Scotland. Tidal power pilots and wind turbine farms. Whole towns and counties that run all public vehicles on cleaner-burning natural gas rather than petrol. 30% of Scotland's energy will be generated by sustainable resources by 2020.
Foulford College in Dunfermline has been running a "house of the future" project aimed to run an entire household in an enviromentally null way for over a decade now.
Stirling University Aquaculture Institute is breeding fish that grow faster on less food for stocking ponds in Africa.
Edinburgh University offers one of the world's few MSc's in environmental sustainability. (It's Rector is also a Green Party member of parliament.)
The 3 R's - reduce, reuse and recycle - are taught at elementary school level (age 10).
There's lots more.
Let's not even mention Dutch flood prevention tech...which would have saved N.O. and which is only now being asked to help with ideas and tech for reconstruction.
BTW did you know that if your car fails a spot check emissions test in the UK (done at the roadside by a mobile D.o.T. crew and with a few police as back-up) then you are walking home and your car is on its way to the crusher? No appeal. That helps emissions standards and regular servicing no end.
Ginger Yellow might be interested to know that researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities and the World Economic Forum recently ranked the USA as 45th in the world in the 2005 index of environmental sustainability. Finland, Norway, Uruguay, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Switzerland, Guyana, Argentina and Austria held the top ten spots and Japan, Bhutan, most of Western Europe and even Botswana beat the US.
Regards, Cernig @ Newshog
Posted by: Cernig | Feb 20, 2006 10:55:29 AM
Cernig, I'm not saying the US is better than European countries on this front - that would be lunacy. I'm just saying that while the EU (as an institution rather than a collection of individual countries) talks big on the environment, in practice the effect of its policies is very mixed.
Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 20, 2006 11:35:16 AM
when i flew into vienna, it was windmills everywhere. note to dubya: good nationalists use renewable energy.
Posted by: jami | Feb 20, 2006 11:37:52 AM
Well, the worst thing about the current US government is that it seems to think that acting multilaterally is a bad thing (maybe "unamerican"?) Just look at the multilateral environmental agreements that the EU and its member states have aceded to, ratified and implemented in the past few years and the US has not, the Kyoto protocol being the best known example.
European environmental politics try to develop the precautionary principle (Principle 15 of the Rio declaration: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.")
The US government refuses to act upon possible dangers as long as industry is willing to fund research on an alternative hypothesis ("sound science")
Posted by: modelo65 | Feb 20, 2006 3:38:40 PM
I'd have thought this easy, but it's proving a bit trickier than I'd hope.
OK. Seriously. This is not precisely on point, but here is an interesting report from the Brookings Institution on the French nuclear power program, which accounts for 80% of France's electricity generation.
Hey, it doesn't dump carbon and its French -- you guys should love it!
Posted by: TigerHawk | Feb 20, 2006 6:29:19 PM
Here's a little example of consumer-level efforts: the Irish carrier-bag tax.
You'll find something similar in Dutch grocery stores, outside the big (tourist-friendly) Albert Heijn near your hotel. Plastic bags haven't been free since 1991: you're encouraged to buy a big, reusable waterproofed canvas bag. The shrink-wrapping of food is controlled; AH is also using biodegradable packaging for all its organic lines.
Posted by: ahem | Feb 20, 2006 8:04:12 PM
In the UK the Coop has biodegradable bags (I think M&S is looking at them, too), but there's nothing in the statutes.
I don't know what the situation is like in the States, but in many European countries when the local council comes to take your garbage they'll also take any bottles, paper and cans you have for recycling.
Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 21, 2006 5:32:11 AM
Fuel duties are a biggie, as Ginger Yellow pointed out. Here in the UK we pay roughly $5.20 a gallon for gas (and that's calculated using the relatively weak pound of the last couple of months). Yeah, you see SUVs, but nowhere near as many of them.
It's also worth noting that the Spanish decided a decade or so ago to start encouraging the use of renewable energy and is now among the world leaders in the field. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about it last fall.
By the way, I lived in Ireland when the tax on shopping bags was introduced, and the effect was dramatic. Almost nobody kept using them.
Posted by: peter snees | Feb 21, 2006 9:52:38 AM
Well, I'm beginning to think the lower prevalence of SUVs is just a question of the lag in fashion. I remember reading that they're the fastest growing class of cars (of course they're starting from a low base) in the UK. That said, you don't see any pick-ups, least of all in suburbia, and they've been absurdly popular in the US for ages.
Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 21, 2006 10:54:30 AM
I believe BMW (D) was considered for tab breaks for being first to voluntarily introduce catalytic converters to its motorcycle line.
Posted by: ats | Feb 21, 2006 11:48:35 AM
"but in many European countries when the local council comes to take your garbage they'll also take any bottles, paper and cans you have for recycling"
That's not the case in the Netherlands, or at least in Amsterdam, where I live. If you want to recycle glass bottles, you have to schlep them to the nearest bottle-recycling point. Ditto paper. And there's no scheme for recycling aluminum cans that I'm aware of. I used to live in Seattle, and it's far ahead of Amsterdam in terms of recycling. Then again, there simply isn't room in Amsterdam for each household, or even building, to have multiple recycling bins of its own.
Posted by: vaara | Feb 21, 2006 12:00:15 PM
Oh, I just remembered another thing: If you live in Brussels, you have to buy special garbage bags, otherwise they won't collect your garbage. A rather elegant solution to the age-old problem of how to charge for garbage collection.
Or at least it would be if they didn't also require people to buy special color-coded bags for paper and other recyclables.
Posted by: vaara | Feb 21, 2006 12:11:36 PM
Ginger Yellow: In many cities they have pick-up of recyclables like cans, bottles, plastic, paper, along with the regular trash.
Here in southeastern Tulare County, we have green trash cans for our lawn clippings and garden trash. The city grinds it up and uses it in the city parks as mulch, etc.
The green trash is collected a day before the regular trash.
Also, I had to learn in a local paper that I could ask for a smaller can for the regular trash which saves me 4$/month over using the size they usually issue for a house in these parts.
Posted by: The Dark Avenger | Feb 21, 2006 2:49:58 PM
Posted by: judy | Oct 1, 2007 4:44:32 AM
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