Sustainable Energy: Denmark vs. USA

I generally hold that Thomas Friedman is an idiot. His unwavering, utopian support of globalization and “free” markets causes me to wonder whether he is evil or just plain stupid. However, this op-ed had some good things to say:

After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I’d go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity…

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

…“I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil.”

Thomas Friedman – Flush With Energy – Op-Ed –

I live in a city which is still debating whether or not rapid transit is a good idea and is making some very sincere but half-assed motions in the direction of supporting cyclist commuters. Perhaps we should send our mayor and city councilors to Copenhagen for a working holiday.

8 responses to “Sustainable Energy: Denmark vs. USA”

  1. much applause on that quote. can we send me to denmark? i agree on the commute by bike bit. we are so proud of our purchases (suv’s, sudan’s, marcedes) that we con ourselves into believing they won’t demand anything of us in the end. it’s so easy to just imagine our lives have no effect on others. will we ever break out of our fictional, pretend, soap opera lives? will we ever see reality for what it is? i ask that of myself. what will it take to really wake me up? can i wake myself up or does something really dramatic need to happen like a flood?
    i saw a rainbow two days in a row. that must mean something. perhaps there is hope. hope in someone bigger. someone able to wake us all up without sending a flood. hmmmmmmmm

  2. To me its a bit like comparing apples and oranges; the entire country of Denmark is only half the size of Maine. I’m not sure if biking it is a viable option in most of the United States and/or Canada where large cities that offer public transit are really spaced out. (geographically, not mentally…haha). But if high oil prices give us incentive to research and develop alternative fuels, then I think that the $145 barrel of oil could potentially be one of the best things to happen in recent years.

  3. Jonathan: Cheers for reading and commenting. You’re quite right that Denmark and the USA are quite different in size (not to mention in many other ways), but I don’t think that that negates what Friedman has put his finger on: Denmark responded well to the energy crisis, the USA did not.

    If by N.American cities being “spaced out,” you are referring to our very low urban population densities, then this proves the point that America has not responded to the energy crisis in a “sustained, focused and systematic way.” It has allowed the building of these low density disasters which are begging for trouble when another energy crisis comes along. The typical, low density American city presupposes cheap and easy energy, a fantasy which is crashing down around their ears…

  4. It might be too early to say America has already “failed” the energy crisis. On this side of the pond, it really has only just begun (although there were indeed the brief but horrid Jimmy Carter years back in the 70s). For the past 12 months, Americans have responded to high gas prices by driving less, and the absolute lunacy of the suburban Hummer has become obvious, so they (and SUVs) are simply not selling. I’d actually say this is rather good progress, to be honest. It also looks like, contrary to former elections, both U.S. presidential candidates are strongly championing alternative energy research. If we are in the same place five years from now that we are now, one could rightly say U.S. failed. To me it just seems to early to make that judgment.

  5. Jonathan: I think that they have failed up and until the present time, because the crisis never actually went away, it was just deferred. Of course it’s entirely possible that there will be good responses in the future. I sure hope so.

    Case in point: the U.S. presidential candidates are talking about alternative energy, but the simple fact of the matter is that there is no combination of alt. energy resources that will allow us to run what we’re running the way we’re running it. Also, many so-called alt. energy strategies are wholly idiotic, such as ethanol (requires more energy input from oil than you get out of it, not to mention the issues of robbing the world’s hungry so we can drive) and hydrogen (hydrogen merely stores energy, which must come from somewhere like… oil).

    The much more intelligent path would be to invest twice as much money as alt. energy into developing living arrangements and systems that require far less energy to run. Like Denmark has. But the message of “consume less” is likely political suicide, unfortunately.

  6. Good points. And I agree, ethanol is a dead end (although not nearly as ridiculous as Prince Charles’ new car which runs on fine wine). But since necessity is the mother of invention, I nevertheless have complete faith in the boys at M.I.T. and good ‘ol American ingenuity.

    On a completely unrelated note, I like your booklist. Just finished Dawkins myself, actually. I’ll have to check out the Klein one…it’s a title I never knew existed.

  7. my faith in technological solutions is much more muted than you own, but I agree that some degree of innovation will no doubt be part of the solution.

    Glad you found Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” in my booklist. You’re in for a bumpy ride!

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