23 November 2007

our green footprint

Alternative energy sources and carbon footprints are the big hot discussion worldwide these days, and I often see footage and articles in which Iceland is held up to be a grand example of greenitude. I will not deny that the geothermal heat infrastructure is amazing- the heating here is the most efficient, silent, and comfortable I have experienced anywhere, and I love thinking of it coming straight from within the roaring insides of the Earth. The locations where the boreholes are drilled are accessible and impressive- huge chimneys exhaling the very breath of the earth, and massive pipes running kilometers across the open lava.

However, when I pass yet another shower left running in the pool, or watch the fountain spraying gallons of unused water across the pavement at Laugardalslaug, I think of my friend A, living in one of the drought stricken parts of the US southeast. As I wrote about before, the concept of saving water has not made it here.

Plus, in terms of the ease of being without a car, Iceland is definitely not in the Europe classification. The sprawl of Reykjavik makes carlessness challenging, and the public transit system only thought acceptable for immigrants, students, old people, and those who lost their license in Iceland's incredibly strict drunk driving and speeding laws. If you live right off certain specific lines, it's easy enough, but step beyond those reaches and you'll be walking 3/4 of a kilometer across barren windswept lava to get to your destination.

There is one category where Iceland definitely comes in ahead of the US though, and that's in the junk catalogue category. When I first moved into my apartment in Boston, I made the mistake of ordering one $20 dress from Victoria's Secret, and by the time I moved out two years later I was getting 5 catalogs a day. Plus, 2 active credit cards and the "right" address and education meant I got junk credit card offers just as often.

Now I get almost no mail I don't want, and the building where I live receives only the newspapers, the TV guide, and an occasional other magazine. A few days ago I realized I kind of missed the idle flip-through, so I grabbed Hagkaup's "gjafa handbókin 2007" with its "þúsundir hugmynda að frábærum jólagjöfum" (thousands of ideas for great Christmas presents) and scanned the pages to look at the hundreds of things I don't really want and definitely don't need. Hagkaup's a weird store- a cross between Whole Foods level groceries, Sears quality everything else, and makeup counters like Macys. Exactly the kind of catalog I got plenty of before and now don't really miss that much after all.

10 comments:

SOe said...

Good post. I´m always amazed about the huge amount of plastic bags which are sold in the supermarkets. Some years ago in Germany, they were for free. After they cost some money (similar to the Icelandic price), nearly nobody bought them anymore. People use plastic boxes and textile shopping bags. I´m always feeling like a foreigner (that I´m) than I use my textile bags (with really nice printings on it) in Iceland... And don´t forget the high amount of gas which is needed for the "small" cars!

Northern musings said...

Coming from Australia I found it really really difficult the first year to get used to all the running taps. In my opinion the cold water coming out of the tap is COLD and hence the tap does not need to run for 15 minutes before filling the glass... I still don´t like seeing water wasted but I think that I have gotten over the major paranoia about it.

Brenton Eccles said...

Wouldn't it be nice to live where water saving isn't such a big issue. In Australia we have to time our showers, and watch most of our water use. We're in severe drought, or so they so, it could be Global Warming. I don't mind saving water, short showers aren't an issue, but it would be nice to be relaxed about it sometimes. Actually, I probably am.

william said...

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way. Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate my proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.

Angel said...

You know, in the Southeast they never thought they would run low on water either... the region is traditionally one of the wettest in the US, (that's why all the soda bottling plants are here) and they ignored the drought for so long, because people think that "conserving water" means just not watering your lawn. Heh. Even when you think its impossible to run out of water, think again. It can happen to you. We will be out of potable drinking water in early Feb if it doesn't rain a whole lot or snow. My liberal, social-justice church that usually spends its time feeding the homeless has taken to praying for rain. That is how bad it is. And the Bishop has been urging parishoners to conserve.

As you know, I grew up in drought country, my whole childhood was spent in a severe drought in California that only broke when I was a teenager. Its funny how people down here are unaware of the steps that one can take: turning off the shower when soaping up, running only a FULL dishwasher, fiddling with the toliet so that it conserves water (the ol' brick trick), never running the water... etc.

Like you say, everyone should conserve. Water is something that we all need, and depend on, and it can, and will dissapear from parts of the world. Meanwhile, I have begun loading up on a stock of bottled water. If the water really does run out like they say it will, I don't want to be caught in the mad frenzy that will ensue....

ECS said...

soe: I'm a fan of the cloth bags and my rolly trolly too. The only reason I buy the plastic bags is because they are the perfect size for my kitchen trash can.

musings: actually, I've found that in more than one house, it takes a while of running the water in the kitchen to get the water properly cold. Not so in the bathroom, so I tend to fill up my water glasses in the bathroom sink rather than the kitchen!

brenton: it is awfully nice to not think about it, especially on those days when it's a bit chilly and all that hot water is just the thing for warming you up. I do love the abundance here.

greetings again, MWP. Quotations are appreciated :)

angel: I've been listening a bit to some of the debates going on there in the south, and I heard that the praying worked in Atlanta. The religious types must be going crazy with that.

I wish I could send you some of our excess from this fall. It's raining yet again here.

Food, she thought. said...

It is strange to me to live in a city where the bus lines are considered the same way they are in Iceland, for immigrants, the poor and the elderly. I have lived in several major cities where carlessness was second nature. During the times, living n Los Angeles, when I have had a car breakdown and had to take the bus people looked at me as if I had three eyes. I remain flummoxed by this approach to transportation.

Hermann Jens Ingjaldsson said...
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ECS said...

beewee: People who have been to LA sometimes do compare here and there. The sprawl does call it to mind. If I were to continue in my current situation (work and living locations) I don't think I would consider changing it, in spite of the stigma of the bus, but I don't think it's going to be possible sadly, given the changes afoot in the next 2 months.

Hermann: I've been pondering your comment since you posted it and I'm afraid I still don't get what you're trying to say.

Hermann Jens Ingjaldsson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.