(This blog was originally written on the 4th April, apologies for the delay)
I am currently in Denmark. Yes I have increased my carbon footprint for a trip to see the family, but I think I have already said enough about that decision, so this blog has a different theme. This is my first trip back since we started our project and it is interesting to see this Scandinavian country through green glasses.
Denmark generally has a good reputation when it comes to environmental matters, and there are some very obvious differences, e.g. during the 1 hour drive from the airport we saw at least 100 windmills, I have seen loads of people of all ages on bikes and you can buy locally grown veg from little local stalls by the road side; but being here I am realising that even environmental matters are culturally loaded.
I don’t think Danish people in general are more clued up on the environment than Scottish people, but there are differences in the lifestyles that make Danish people greener. So can we learn anything from this in Scotland??? Afterall there are similarities between the 2 countries that make them comparable eg. population numbers are in the region of 5 mil in both countries and they both have a rather wet and windy climate.
A few observations:
There are lots of people cycling in Denmark, from schoolkids to business men in suits to elderly ladies going shopping. I have always argued that the reason Danish people cycle more is because the infrastructure for cycling is in place, there are lots of cycling paths, plenty of bike parking and cyclists even have certain priorities over cars in traffic, but this visit has made me realise another major difference: cycling is considered a form of transport, not a sport or anything else.
Danes don’t wear special clothes for cycling, they don’t wear special shoes, many don’t have fancy bikes – they just use them because they are convenient. We don’t do anything special if we go to the shops in the car, nor if we are walking – we just get on with it, that is exactly what Danes do with bikes as well. I remember as a student we would get dressed up for a night out, and even if wearing high heels or a skirt, we would still get to the party on our bikes – because it was cheap, fast and convenient transport. You would never see that in Scotland!
Cycling in Scotland is to some extent considered elitist and lots of people think that you can only really go on a bike if you are fully and expensively kitted out including non-flattering lycra. I have no idea how to change this attitude, but I am sure it is one of the keys to a successful cycling culture.
How about the windmills? How come Denmark can have windmills all over without hordes of protesters everywhere? You could argue that it is because windmills are quite important to the economy (Denmark is one of the largest producers of windmills in the world), but if people really objected that would probably never have happened. I think it might all go back to a political decision following a powerful grassroots campaign in the 80’s to keep Denmark free of nuclear power. Already then the Danes started thinking about alternative ways to get power, so there has been a long period of getting used to it. The funny thing is that all the problems that protesters bring up in Britain don’t seem to appear here. There are no dead birds all over the place or other wildlife problems, the noise (which is primarily a low humming) doesn’t seem to bother the neighbours and I think most Danes would get rather upset if anybody claimed their countryside is spoiled. Could this ever be the case in Scotland?
Scotland is in fact even better placed for windmills than Denmark, because the actual size of Scotland is much bigger than Denmark, so much more room for them – yet windmills always seem very controversial. I think we should send some of the protesters on a trip to Denmark (by train and ferry of course…), so they can see for themselves that it is perfectly possible for humans and windmills to live in harmony side by side.
Then there is the issue of bottle recycling. The Danes have been recycling bottles for decades. Just like the brits used to return milk bottles to the milk man, there has been a system in place for returning beer and soft drink bottles to the breweries for a very long time. When you buy beers in shops you always pay a deposit for the bottles and when empty you return the bottles to a special bottle bank and your deposit is returned. The bottles are then taken to the drink producers, washed & cleaned and used again. It works well and a Dane would never dream of throwing a bottle in the bin (or in the street or a river for that matter). I realise that we don’t have the infrastructure for such a system in Scotland and it would be too costly and complicated to set one up, but I think the money aspect is worth considering. Wouldn’t we be more likely to put stuff in the recycling bin if it meant a rebate in council tax for example?
We have a lot to do if we are to reach a sustainable way of living and I think it is important that we look in all directions for inspiration. So my personal mission when we return to the land of the Scots shall be to bring a bit of Danish inspiration: I shall get on my bike wearing my usual jeans and sweater (no lycra for me thank you very much!) and go somewhere to campaign for some windmills (and I will probably end up in the category of village idiot, but hey I can always blame it on my Danish heritage).