distance travelled by train 42km
by bicycle 5km
Of the countries I’m visiting Sweden has by far the lowest carbon emissions, either per person or per household. To put this in perspective and make it easy to see I’m going to give you a graph.
(Ah - no I'm not - blogger doesn't like that - I will work on this and see what I can do)
But imagine theres a graph there....So there’s Sweden in the pale green at less than half than most of the rest of us. Why’s that then? The main reason has got to be grid intensity – that’s how much carbon is emitted for every kWh generated which depends on how you make your energy. Sweden does best on renewable energy producing around 26% mostly by large scale hydro power. They also rely heavily on nuclear (37%) despite a referendum in the 80’s when people voted firmly against it. This meant that no new nuclear was built but now, with reactors coming to the end of their lives, the possibility of new nuclear appears to be back on the cards. They also have very tight building regulations and have had for years now.
Malmo, the most southerly city in Sweden lies just across the Oresund bridge from Copenhagen. Riddled with economic problems in the 1980’s and suffering high unemployment (25%) the city came up with a strategy to reinvent themselves as a ‘Green City’. Straight from the train I am visiting Tor at the council who has been involved with this process. I say I’ve just been in Copenhagen and he sniffs and says that Malmo has more km of cycle lanes than Copenhagen. They tells me they have visitors from all over the world, at least one person or group every week. I do get the feeling that he’s told a lot of other people what he tells me. He gives me several leaflets and an ‘ecoguide’ describing some of the more high profile projects undertaken, broken down into areas such as sustainable building, refuse and recycling and resident participation. They’ve done a really thorough job of documentation and I doubt I can add any more meaningful insights after an hours interview. I’m interested to hear that they’ve had a Chinese delegation who are keen to recreate the Western Harbour development in a new eco-city in China. This is Malmo’s principle flagship project – a mixed use renovation of an old industrial site, running on 100% renewable energy (mostly one big wind turbine) and comprising a good degree of resident participation. It seems that they’re not talking about the ideas or concepts behind it but just rebuilding an exact copy, regardless of local conditions, culture or wind resource. It baffles me that anyone can fail to get the point so badly. I ask how all this came about – whether it was one or two visionary characters (as it seems to have been in other locations) but he tells me it just came out the local area network agreements that followed the Rio Earth summit in 1991. Now we all have these – look it up on your local councils webpage, put in LAN21 to the search box. I’ve been told that in Trafford where I live some of the local cycle routes were a result of this (they re-did some of the roads recently and have not re-instated them) but in general it was as if we wrote them, and then said ‘ oh well that’s that done’ and left it. Whereas the Swedes, with a wonderful literalness actually took it seriously and got on with it.
Afterwards I go to meet Anders. He has worked much less time for the council – only a couple of years and rather than talk over the big picture he runs me through the project he is involved with ‘slaying the darlings’ of the City. Malmo is pretty damn windy and it seems that the City have decided that therefore wind should be their choice for sustainable energy, in the form of lots of tiny wind top turbines (nice and visible – a ‘green’ symbol). Anders has been trying to debunk this as an idea since a few weeks after his arrival and seems to have managed although they are still talking about a couple of demonstration ones. He shows me the one that Copenhagen put up next to their conference centre in time for the climate talks last November and shows what a bad location it is. (Tip – when in Malmo – don’t say anything about how good Copenhagen is) His project has now become a drive to get some bigger turbines up at the best locations, mostly away from the city centre. He runs me through a presentation he gave to some landscape architecture students regarding the technical possibilities and limitations of wind. He has challenged them to come up with a way of making the turbines enhance the landscape – not just be hidden in it. I ask about offshore – they already have a large windfarm – the Vattenfall wind power park, forty eight 2.3MW turbines south of the Oresund bridge, but his take is that they know that works and will probably do more of it but they want to see what they can do with onshore first This seems a bold and exciting move, especially trying to make a feature of them (provided they’re in the right place) but I’m not sure that there isn’t an element of reinventing the wheel. It’s nice to meet an enthusiast and he’s the first person to ask about where I’m from and what it is I’m trying to achieve and we get the SKM, CAT and CIBSE websites up.
I have to dash off as I agreed to meet Katface for a brew before she trains it back to Copenhagen. She has been around the city to the Castle (‘Rubbish – not even like a proper Castle, and windy’) to the Western Harbour (‘Deserted, oh and windy’) and the cycle lanes (‘Not as good as Copenhagen, and windy’). I tell her Malmo has more km of cycle lanes than Copenhagen and she looks disbelieving. Well it does seem sort of unbelievable – although they have a lot of completely separate cycle lanes and little cycle roads with cycle roundabouts through the centre of pedestrianised streets so maybe it is these they have more of 25% of adults here cycle and if we hadn’t just been to Copenhagen we would have been blown away by it.
I am late to meet Anna, my couchsurf host but she is still there and leads me off to an industrial unit that has been rented out by a community group and on a Monday night is turned into a people’s kitchen. There are sofas and tables all around, enough to seat over 100, and another room with a stage, posters all over the walls for various political, anti-capitalist, meetings and musical events and a piano that a couple of people turn up and play whilst we are eating. They have a gym in one room and a well equipped bicycle repair workshop in another. There is a table full of fruit and vegetables which have been retrieved from the cities bins but not used in tonights dinner for people to take. Anna gets some bananas and broccoli. It’s much quieter than normal because of a demonstration against the new, more right wing government so we get first dig at a great spread – stuffed peppers, bread rolls, roast vegetables, a ratatouille thing and some nutty bolognaise affair. More dishes are brought out and a huge bowl of fruit salad. It’s all delicious. We put a donation in the jar, wash our plates and head off into the evening dusk. Anna shares with two other ladies, and all three are very dynamic and socially aware. One comes in later, after the others have gone to bed, and I am sat at my netbook in the kitchen and says – ‘hey are you our couchsurfer? Great!’ and sits at the kitchen table with me and we put the world to rights.
And the sofa is really comfy too.