Monday, August 20, 2007

Green with Envy

My co-worker and I agree: Germans are much more green conscious than we Americans. Everywhere I looked I saw evidence - at least superficial evidence - that they value being ecologically friendly. There were lots of smaller cars, lots of riders on the trolleys, and lots - I mean, lots - of bicycles. While the motivation might not be ecological alone (extremely small and rare parking spaces in many areas, and 1.35 € per liter for gas also stimulates the more lofty values) still the fact is they are driving small cars, they are riding their trains and trolleys, and most impressive, they are riding bikes and scooters in far greater numbers than I've seen anywhere here in the States.

While in Frankfurt I observed a young professional lady coming out of one of their massive business towers. She was dressed in a business suite (with skirt) and high heels.

She looked like she was walking toward the crosswalk, and I guessed that she was probably heading up to the train station. Instead she walked up to a bicycle that was chained to a sign, unlocked it and off she peddled, presumably toward home or off to meet friends for dinner. I would find it extremely surprising to see a suit-clad man mount a bike much less an attractive woman over here. To them it is just a regular, and prudent mode of transportation.

Other examples included the rare use of air-conditioning, sod and grass growing on rooftops, and automatic shutter systems that reduce the glare of sunshine into buildings. They are very keen to not give you a bag at the grocery store (yet will happily if you request one). Sure - some of them drive absurdly large Mercedes, and sports cars. And I'm sure if one looked deeply enough there would be more examples of rampant waste. However, the point is you'd have to look - unlike here where one is constantly dodging urban assault vehicles that suck gas at from between 5-15 miles per gallon.

Yes, we love America - and we have reason to be proud of our achievements. We do, however, need to remember that the world that we live in is fragile and we can (and have) wound it. Here in Atlanta we have one of the worst air quality (I use the word "quality" loosely) situations of any North American commuting city. We also have one of the worst public transportation systems, and we all drive with mostly a single commuter per car. I would hope that we are motivated by either shame or by some form of greed into doing better ecologically. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a noble goal; changing our driving culture from the tankish to the stylishly small will dramatically increase that reduction. (Now where are the keys to my Hummer...just kidding.)


Fritz said...

I think this might be a urban vs suburban issue, rather than German vs American. In large American cities it's also not entirely unusual for workers -- men and women -- to bike commute in office wear. Our distances do tend to be longer, though, and the long commute encourages commuting to work in "cycling" clothing.

Curtis Forrester said...

Yes - point well taken. I've lived in urban settings as well. And yes, our commute distances are greater. It's easier to ride bikes and scooters when you're in a more high density city setting.

I've always heard about other countries - about the train system in Europe, subway systems both here and abroad, etc. But when you actually see it and experience it the impact is greater. Personally, I'd love to ride the Marta to work. There is a station within easy walking distance from where my office is. If it came up toward where I live I'd ride. Unfortunately, it doesn't come anywhere near.