Tag Archives: conservation

Conservation and Freedom

Danes love Denmark. Their countryside in Jylland heals them and calls them back to a simpler, more rural past; their access to the ocean feeds them and reminds them of their Viking ancestry (of which they are lightheartedly proud). As a country, the Danes try to do everything they can to preserve the richness of both their nature and their culture.

Two weeks into my semester in Denmark, I had the opportunity to visit an island called Samso (pronounced Sam-soo) about 3 hours northwest of Copenhagen. I’m deeply involved in sustainability efforts back at my campus (I went so far as to take a job picking recyclables out of the trash – have you ever stuck your arm shoulder-deep into a trashcan after a weekend party to fish out a misplaced bottle?). I’ve struggled with how to make my individual efforts count, especially when faced with mass-ambivalence towards “environmental awareness.” In the U.S. it seems like saying words like “environmental,” or “green” often flip some sort of off-switch in a person that causes them to passively ignore what you’re saying. It seems like too big of a problem (and in reality it is) for anyone to meaningfully contribute to a solution.

Visiting Samso was, therefore, inspirational. Back in the 1990’s, the residents won a Denmark-wide contest to create a 100% sustainable region, and since then they’ve made it a reality. Over the weekend, I saw the many innovative ways they did so. Gigantic 8-MegaWatt turbines drilled deep in the ocean floor waved a welcome as we approached the island. Using hay and heather grown across the island, the islanders insulate their houses, produce heat, and thatch their roofs. Large steel vats of water aligned in neat rows like solar panels soak up heat from the sun and then flow into people’s houses – and real solar panels decorate many of the more modern homes. An Energy Academy modeled after a Viking longhouse educates residents and communities worldwide about Samso’s efforts. Although they still import some gas, the energy that the share-owned wind turbines produce offsets this import.

Seeing a whole country (and especially this one region) dedicated to living as sustainably as they can was refreshing. I felt like I’d been walking in a swamp of lethargy and apathy and then been thrown a lifeline to pull myself into a new way of thinking. As I came to realize, the average Dane doesn’t necessarily think about living sustainably. Like so many other aspects of their life, they trust those sorts of big issues (e.g. healthcare) to the government and then take pride in following the programs it sets up. For example, my host family spoke with pride about Samso, and told me about all the wind turbines and other renewable sources Denmark uses to produce energy. But my host-brother still took fairly long showers (longer than me!) and they threw out leftovers fairly often. Both my host parents had cars, but they were limited in these luxuries by the high taxes placed on energy and water – they could only afford to have them because they had solar panels on their roof that provided about 90% of their energy. Toilets all had dual-flush functions (less water for fluids, etc); gas and even fatty foods were highly taxed to discourage their use.

The truly innovative aspect of Denmark’s approach to many societal problems is that they keep them as societal problems. They don’t ask individuals to tackle problems like water shortages or global warming on their own; instead, they set up economic and social incentives that set boundaries on what residents can do. Can we apply this to the U.S.? I’m not so sure. Above almost every other ideal, we hold freedom vital to our national identity. Wouldn’t putting higher taxes on resources as Denmark does essentially limit our freedom? Wouldn’t it be a gross violation of the liberty we hold so dear? An example of this mindset is the backlash against the ban on supersized sodas created by New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, I think we’re incorrectly defining what freedom is!

What I’d suggest is that we re-examine our concept of freedom. Since the Enlightenment ideas of Locke and Hobbes, we’ve had a notion that people enter social systems to avoid a chaotic “state of warre;” We still believe that you can do what you want until your actions limit someone else’s freedom. As this country matures (we’re still youngsters compared to many others!) I really hope we can grow to see that having largely unlimited, unrestricted access to resources actually limits everyone’s freedom – overuse creates a tragedy of the commons where soon no one has the freedom to use a resource because it’s quite simply gone. I think Denmark as a country, and individual Danes, recognize this; from what I saw, in trusting societal problems to society, they don’t have to worry about them. Despite living in an essentially socialistic society, could the Danes actually be more free than U.S.?

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Filed under Nathaniel in Denmark, Western Europe

And then there was light…and breakfast

The differences between my world in America and my new world in Italy were apparent right way. With my modest-sized suitcase in my hand, I waved my key card in front of a panel beside my dorm room. I heard a magnetic click as my door unlocked. I threw my bags on my bed and I searched for the electrical adapter so I could recharge my phone. I plugged my phone into the wall but the life-affirming green light on my charger was not activated. I walked over to the light switch and I toggled between on and off. No luck there either. The only thing that resembled electricity was a dimly lit green arrow next to the door. With my key card still in my hand, I inserted it into the slot and I heard a faint click. The lights came on and I felt cooler air at the back of my neck. I was amazed that the Bologna campus was so progressive in being “green” and I wished that we could be more like that back home. As I left my room for a group meeting, I pulled the key card from the wall. The lights went out and the air conditioner went off. In some small way, I felt like I was making a small contribution in the global effort to conserve energy.

After a good night’s rest, I was ready to start my first day of classes. However, the first order of business was breakfast. As I ventured through the hallways to the dining hall and upon entering the room, my first impression was that the Italian students did not look that much different from the other students at the Syracuse campus. As I carried my tray of food, I became acutely aware of the incessant chatter emanating throughout the room and I realized I didn’t understand what was being said. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to endure this surreal moment of feeling out-of-place by myself since there were twelve other Syracuse students participating in my film studies program. As I sat down next to the other film students, my attention turned to my Italian breakfast. What lay before me was not my “breakfast of champions” that I was accustomed to back home. My tray contained a fresh-baked croissant (with Nutella), a banana, a yogurt, a cup of pear juice (from a box) and a tiny ceramic cup of espresso. I can’t deny I was a little let down. Where were my eggs, toast, bacon and my 16 ounces of coffee? I said to myself, “You are in Italy…do as the Italians do!” I took a deep breath and I devoured what was in front of me. I was a little surprised that bread, yogurt and fruit were actually quite filling. As I was leaving the dining hall, the server politely said something in Italian, which I didn’t understand. I didn’t worry too much since I was on my way to my first Italian language class!

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Filed under Terry in Italy, Western Europe

The Conservation and Beauty of Spain

When I initially went to Spain, I expected to find an environment different from what I was accustomed to in the United States, and I wasn’t disappointed. In Zaragoza alone, where I lived, I very rarely would see trash in the streets. Every once in a while, I might spy a random plastic bag blowing in the wind, or a pop can on the sidewalk, but it wasn’t very common. It also struck me as odd that the sidewalk was wet one day, even though it hadn’t rained or anything in a few days. As I was walking to class the next day, I saw a giant machine being operated along the sidewalks. As I got closer, I realized that the machine was actually spraying and sweeping the sidewalk, gathering trash as it went as well. I thought that this was definitely a great way to keep the streets clean, and I wish I saw more of that in my hometown. As a person with a disability, who can easily trip and fall over the smallest bit of trash, clean and clear streets and sidewalks are a blessing!

Another form of conservation that I found in Spain, particularly in my host family, was the reuse of food. My host mom was an absolutely fantastic cook, and I enjoyed almost every dish she cooked. However, she would often times make large portions and I’m a smaller guy, so I don’t always eat much. If I wasn’t able to eat all of something, instead of throwing it away like I might at home, she’d insist that we could reheat it for later. Leftovers became my best friends in a sense. Even if I didn’t like the dish she had prepared (which was rare), she would try to reuse different parts of the dish in something else that I might enjoy. As she once told me, “I went to Cuba once. After seeing what little food they have, I will never waste a single bite of food, if I can help it.”

One last thing I noticed about Spain was how much Europeans in general really have learned to cherish and take care of the environment, particularly the most beautiful parts, like the beaches. For example, I visited two different beaches in Spain: the main beach in Valencia and La Concha (The Shell) in San Sebastián, named for its shell-like shape. The couple of beaches that I’ve visited in the US have been quite dirty, to be honest. The sand can be quite uncomfortable to walk on, due to miscellaneous pieces of trash. However, I particularly enjoyed the day I spent in San Sebastián because I was able to walk on a clean, beautiful beach, only having to worry about small shell pieces, instead of pieces of glass or an empty can of Coke. I really appreciate that there are still clean places like that in the world, and I hope that one day people will see the value in such places and will in turn, take better care of them.

La Concha

La Concha

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Peru’s Natural Beauty and Conservation

 

Michael exploring the Inca Trail

Michael exploring the Inca Trail

Peru is blessed with more than its fair share of natural splendor.  There are 3 distinct ecological regions of the country: the desert coast, the mountainous highlands, and the Amazon Jungle.  My personal experience can only speak to the breathtaking beauty of the first two.  In the desert, I first visited Huacachina; it is an oasis straight out of a Hollywood film.  The massive dunes surrounding the water and palm trees are used for sand-boarding, an experience unlike any other.  My next visit was the Islas Ballestas, which are commonly called the “Poor man’s Galapagos Islands.”  Birds filled the sky above the rocky and photogenic crags of the islands.  Moving inland, I have experienced the beauty of Puno and Lake Titicaca.  Lake Titicaca has an area of 3,200 square miles and is over 12,500 feet above sea level.  It is an incredible sight to see such a large freshwater lake surrounded by mountains.  Because of the altitude, clouds barely hover over the lake and often touch the peaks of the surrounding mountains.  The culminating and most significant of my outdoor experiences was the Inca Trail, the iconic 4 day trek to Machu Picchu.  Around every turn and through every pass, my gasps for air were accompanied by gasps of wonder and awe.  Paired with nature’s magnificence were intact Incan Ruins that were never found and destroyed by the Spanish.   These ruins somehow feel more authentic and pure than those near Cuzco, for there are few people and the preservation is superior.  Of course, I must mention the natural and man-made beauty of Machu Picchu, Peru’s own wonder of the world.

Pelicans at Islas Ballestas

Pelicans at Islas Ballestas

Huacachina

Huacachina

The Peruvian government acknowledges the ecological and archaeological riches within its borders, and therefore has taken a great deal of caution to preserve them.  However, in Peruvian daily life environmental cautiousness is often not a concern.  In the towns surrounding Cuzco, it is common for trash to be strewn throughout the land and the streets.  When only organic materials were consumed in these towns there were less problems with this habit, but the commonality of plastic and glass became difficult.  Instead of using trash bins like in the US, people in Cuzco leave uncontained trash out by the street.  When I was engulfed by the black fumes of a bus while waiting to cross the street, it literally hit me that vehicle pollution is also a significant problem.  There are not any enforced regulations about vehicle pollution here.  The most commonly practiced environmentally friendly habit I have witnessed in the city is the use of public transport; that is something we could often use more of in the U.S.  Even if the vehicles are dirty, there are less of them on the road than there would be if people all drove themselves.  The people will need more education about environmental concerns before the populated areas can match cleanliness of the more well-known tourist attractions.

Ruins along the Inca Trail

Ruins along the Inca Trail

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Filed under Michael in Peru, south america