Why is the carbon footprint much lower in Denmark?
Do you know how your country’s per capita carbon emissions compare to other nations? Canada’s annual per capita emissions were 17.9 tons in 2007, 24.3 percent more than in Kyoto, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The United States, once the world leader in emissions, has 19.9 tons per capita, a 19.3 percent increase since the ratification of Kyoto in 1997, but China is the new number one. The per capita emissions of its citizens are lower than the US figures at 4.8 percent, but the country’s total emissions are now more than the United States at nearly 6.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2007.
Other industrialized countries have figures much lower than our Canadian figures, like Denmark, for example, with only 10.4 tons per capita, actually down half a percent since 1997. What could explain the difference?
That’s a question that economist and author Jeff Rubin explored in his new book, The end of growth. In an excerpt published in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, Rubin investigated Denmark’s reputation as an environmental leader. On first impressions, literally, as Rubin recalled seeing an impressive swath of offshore wind turbines while flying to Cophenhagen, it would appear that the country’s adoption of wind power is behind its relatively small carbon footprint. But it turns out that those windmills, which are now part of Denmark’s major energy technology exports, only provide 20 percent of the country’s energy. The other 80 percent, the same percentage as in China, actually comes from coal, a fuel 20 percent dirtier than oil and twice as dirty as natural gas.
What is different about Denmark?
The real factor that makes a difference for Denmark, Rubin argues, is that they use much less energy overall, because it makes financial sense for them to do so. We could also do this in North America, he says, and see similar results.
For example, in Copenhagen, energy for homes costs 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, two to three times the average price in North America. Consequently, the Danes have a strong incentive to conserve energy at home, in order to keep their energy bills low, something we simply do not have here, where energy reserves are strong and energy is relatively cheap.
Denmark is also known for being a cyclist’s dream, with some of the best bike lanes in the world in Copenhagen, and biking from place to place instead of driving is common. Rubin points out that this is partly because the costs of owning and operating a car are simply more expensive for Danes. Like across Europe, fuel prices are higher than in North America, but more importantly, simply owning a car is more expensive – Danes pay a tax of up to 180 percent, depending on size. of the motor, the price tag of a vehicle.
Japan’s new passion for setsuden
Denmark’s policies are born out of necessity: they don’t have their own significant hydrocarbon reserves to depend on, and importing fuel is expensive. Japan is pursuing energy conservation efforts for the same reason because of the country’s decision to shut down its nuclear reactors, which provided nearly a third of its energy until recently. As a result, Japan now focuses nationally on conserving electricity o setsuden, with efforts ranging from leaving the air conditioning off in office buildings to encouraging citizens to reduce their energy use at home by as much as 20 percent.
Because Denmark lacks a significant energy or automotive sector, politicians do not have to worry about pleasing those industries, giving them more freedom to enact policies that have kept the country’s energy consumption low. In Canada and the United States, the oil and automotive industries are subsidized by governments; however, until the political will to make changes arrives, individuals still have the power to change their behaviors to reflect those of the Danes and the Japanese, and that means financial savings in this part of the world as well.
How to reduce your own carbon footprint
There are many ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Use less energy at home: keep your thermostat lower, use your air conditioner less often, and install a thermostat timer so you don’t waste energy at night or when you’re not at home. Consider modernizing your windows to make them more energy efficient, preventing you from losing heat or cold air. When you need new appliances, look for Energy Star models. And get a hint from the Danish by reducing your reliance on driving. If you have two cars for your home, try lowering one. Consider taking public transportation to work instead of traveling by car, or look for carpool options. And get a bike – you’ll save money on gas and get some extra exercise.