Monday, October 19, 2015

Small Bits of Climate Hope from Europe

I returned last week from a vacation in Europe.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable time hiking in the mountains of Tuscany and visiting our son in the Netherlands.

Climate solutions were not the intended focus of our trip, but I couldn't help but notice the many energy conservation and renewable energy efforts in the countries we visited. I came away feeling more optimistic that needed climate solutions are being implemented and can be accelerated.

Solar is much more commonplace than I expected. We spent a week in an Italian Agritourismo originally built in medieval times in a remote mountain area. It is now largely run by solar. In a neareby hillside village in the Garfagnana area north of Lucca, homes with photovoltaic panels are easily spotted.

Solar panels on homes in the hills of Garfagnana, Italy

Even very old homes are are adding solar as they are remodeled, as the home below shows.

In the small town of Maastricht in the southeastern corner of the Netherlands, homes have many energy conservation features such as motion sensors for lights, heavy insulation, CFL and LED lighting and efficient windows.  These simple features are common throughout the areas we visited in Europe.  Solar is also increasing, as the roof of the home next to our Bed and Breakfast shows.

Solar Panels on Roof in Maastricht, Netherlands

Our journeys between towns were on electrified trains that were reliable and generally faster that auto travel.  Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are becoming much more commonplace.  Paris has had an electric car-sharing program since 2011.  There are now about 3000 cars in the Paris program being used for over 10,000 rentals a day (source here).  The Paris program is now rolling out to other cities.  Paris also boasts a robust bicycle sharing program.

AutoLib Paris Shared Electric Cars at one of about 1000 charging locations
Tesla and one other car charging in Maastricht, Netherlands

Cars charging at train station in Dusseldorf, Germany
Often forgotten among the climate solutions are steps to reduce waste, recycle and compost.  Not only are resources used more efficiently, but greenhouse gas emissions from rotting garbage can be minimized or eliminated with proper management.  In Florence, Italy, there are separate streetside bins for organic waste and recyclables, offering residents a convenient way to assure proper handling of materials.

Food and organic waste collection bin on street in Florence, Italy

Recyclables collection bin on street in Florence, Italy

These are just a sampling of the measures we saw.  Windmills were seemingly everywhere, as were larger solar installations.  Passive solar design is incorporated in buildings,  LED lighting is becoming widespread.  Bicycle use is emphasized through workable bike lanes bike share availability.

The nations of the world will be gathering in Paris in early December to craft agreements with the goal of keeping temperature rise under about 3.6 degrees farenheit in the coming decades.  To be successful, sweeping changes in our approach to energy production, transportation systems and resources utilization will be critical.  But rapid implementation of the large-scale solutions will require many small scale actions by communities and individuals.  

Our recent trip to Europe helped convince me that the needed steps are taking hold in many areas.  With aggressive commitments and incentives for governments, it will be possible to take both the large and small steps needed to slow and eventually stop climate change.

I'll be returning to Paris for the U.N. Climate Summit in December.  

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