Monday, February 6, 2012

One World

By Ashten Travis

Flying across the Atlantic, halfway around the world I had no idea what to expect. This was my first adventure in Europe and I was curious to see how the world exactly worked in another country. Although I experienced millions of changes and culture shocks, one thing was universal, the love for our planet.

In between catching planes, eating gelato, touring cities, snapping pictures, and meeting new friends I managed to learn far more than I had ever expected. Immersing myself in a new culture opened up a whole new perspective of the world to me.

Recycling bins at the airport in Rome, Italy. 
When our plane landed at the Amsterdam airport, I was shocked to see so many recycling bins placed next to the trash bin. There was a separate barrel for paper, plastic, and even glass. My first thought was that Europe must put much more effort into saving the environment than the United States. These large recycling bins provoked my curiosity to really find out how environmentally conscious Europe is.

After touring the European Union in Brussels, many of my questions were answered. The European Union’s actions have a huge impact on the life of its citizens by working on challenges that society has to face. The European Union addresses environmental protection, health, technological innovation, energy and more. I was surprised to hear the European Council agreed that, by 2020, the European Union would cut its emissions by at least 20 percent. They would also like to raise renewable energy’s share of the market to 20 percent and cut overall energy consumption by 20 percent.

In Prague, Paris, Brussels and Rome I saw a huge trend in small cars. I rarely saw an SUV or a large pick up truck. This really stuck out to me since in the United States almost every other car is a large vehicle. Everywhere I looked in Europe there was a tiny car, smart car or hybrid parked on the street. This makes sense seeing as how the European Union also agreed that 10 percent of fuel for transportation should come from electricity, hydrogen or biofuels.
One of the many smart cars in Europe.

I discovered that in both the United States and Europe there are emission standards that are set. These are requirements that limit the amount of pollutants released in the air. They regulate pollutants such as carbon dioxide and can be set for vehicles, utilities, factories and other sources. In the United States, our CO2 emission standards are set by the EPA, an agency. However in the European Union, their CO2 emission standards are set by the European Union Council Members. Their CO2 is regulated at 208 g/mi as opposed to the US’s at 250 g/mi. The European Union aims to impose harsh fines if there is non-compliance. They began regulating their CO2 in 2009. I found this information online from Andrew Chinsky and Seth Federer’s presentation “Environmental Policy in the EU”.

From the book I picked up in the European Union’s office “Europe in 12 lessons” I read that oil, natural gas and coal provide 80 percent of the energy consumed in the European Union. 50 percent of its gas and oil is imported and they predict the dependence could jump to 70 percent by 2030. The United States is currently importing 60 percent of the fossil fuels we use. The European Union is actively working on taking steps to save energy by using it more wisely, coming up with alternative energy sources and also by increasing international cooperation.
Room key slot for the electricity in our hotel.
I was amazed how Europe was finding ways to save energy in the hotels I stayed at. In Prague, I couldn’t figure out why the outlets and lights were not working when I first arrived. We then realized you have to insert your room key in a slot by the door for them to turn on. I had never seen this before, but I think this is an excellent idea. This goes great with the saying, If it is not in use, turn off the juice! In the United States, we claim we do this, but in Europe they are ensuring that it actually happens. Another change I saw was a little green eco friendly sign that you were to place on your hotel bed if you needed your sheets changed. Even though this was just a small thing I saw in Paris, I think it could really make a difference.

The European Union has invested 1.6 billon euros in the ‘Clean Sky’ project to develop a less polluting aircraft. They are making big advances and are working towards making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles commercially possible through pilot projects striving to develop CO2 capture and storage.

While I visited Europe I saw numerous examples of how Europeans are really taking charge and trying to make the world we share a better place. The steps in reducing consumption of fossil fuels is crucial to reverse the process of global warming. As I visited four different countries, I experienced different languages, different foods, and very different customs. Throughout all of these differences both Europe and the United States share the same challenges of going green and planning for the future. 

Click here to contact Ashten Travis.

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