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Page added on September 30, 2009

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What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.?

Europe, particularly northern Europe, is far more environmentally conscious than the United States, despite Americans’ sincere and passionate resolution to be green. Per capita CO2 emissions in the U.S. were 19.78 tons according to the U-nion of Concerned Scientists, which used 2006 data, compared to 9.6 tons in the U.K., 8.05 tons in Italy, and 6.6 tons in France.

Why have Americans made so little headway on an issue that so many of us feel so strongly about? As a U.S. journalist traveling around Europe for the last few years reporting on the environment, I’ve thought a lot about this paradox.
My point is that the low-carbon footprints depend on the infrastructure of life, and in that sense Europeans have an immediate advantage. To live without a clothes dryer or AC in the United States is considered tough and feels like a sacrifice. To do so in Rome – where apartments all include a clothes-drying balcony or indoor rack and where buildings have thick walls and shutters to help you cope with the heat – is the norm.

In many European countries, space has always been something of a premium, forcing Europeans early on to live with greater awareness of humans’ negative effects on the planet. In small countries like the Netherlands, it’s hard to put garbage in distant landfills because you tend to run into another city. In the U.S., open space is abundant and often regarded as something to be developed. In Europe you cohabit with it.

Also, in Europe, the construction of most cities preceded the invention of cars. The centuries-old streets in London or Barcelona or Rome simply can’t accommodate much traffic – it’s really a pain, but you learn to live with it. In contrast, most American cities, think Atlanta and Dallas, were designed for people with wheels.

Still, I still marvel at the some of the environmental strategies I’ve witnessed in Europe.

Planet Ark



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