Politics and Policies of the EU: Internship Program in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Go Green, All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Being Green. I remember a time when that meant you had taken one too many rides on the tilt-a-wheel at the local county fair after eating your third funnel cake. Nowadays it’s a state of being to strive for. How times have changed. Someday I look forward to shocking my grandchildren with stories about a time when we threw our plastic bottles away. I can even remember when the county issued us our first recycling bin. It was the attractive color of mustard yellow. However, today the practice of conservation, going ‘green’ and recycling have become almost second nature to many of us.
Before heading out on our gas guzzling, C02 emitting, and ozone destroying 7 hour transatlantic flight we were asked as part of the program to look for ways in which we could reduce our carbon footprint during the program as well as look for ‘green’ practices used in Europe that perhaps are not used in the States. I was immediately ready to take a row boat across the Atlantic, but as happens with many green initiatives, it was simply not time or cost effective, and so it was decided that we would take the fossil fuel burning, multi-ton aircraft instead. Darned if convenience doesn’t always win out in the end.
                When asked to write the class ‘green’ blog I felt there was a strong sense of irony in the request. I am probably the most conservative Republican in the group and might be fairly labeled a ‘doubting Thomas’ when it comes to the panic over Global Warming. However, I’m not a complete crazy. While I am fairly dubious about the legitimacy of global warming, as far as the realm of government conspiracies go, I draw the line at little green men and tinfoil hats. While that little fact did surprising little to reassure the powers that be of my qualifications for writing this blog, I also noted that I am an avid outdoor enthusiast and think the trees and alpine lakes along my favorite hiking trails look good just as they are and I would like them to stay put. Therefore, while I may be less than concerned about the ozone layer and whether or not it may soon come to resemble Swiss cheese because I drove my car to school rather than taking bus, I am rather perturbed when someone wants to bulldoze my favorite hiking spot and put in a minimart. Hence, I am fully onboard with the ‘save the earth’ initiative. That being said, many of us noted conservation efforts in Europe that are not used, or only used in limited areas, in the U.S. Some of these include:
-          -Metro doors that you have to manually open rather than having them automatically open at every stop
-         - Escalators that only run when someone steps on them rather than moving continually
-         -  Lights that are on a motion sensor and only turn on when someone is walking in the hallway
-        -  Grocery bags are not given out when you go shopping. Not only do you have to request a bag, but you must also pay for it, as well as endure the looks of disapproval by other shoppers in line because you did not bring a reusable bag. The shame if nothing else will turn you green.
-         - Smaller washing machines that use less water per load, plus many families use a clothes line rather a dryer. I’ve also noticed that my family appears to wash colors and whites all in one load, reducing the amount of loads done. This has also done wonders for turning my white shirts into slightly blue shirts. Personally, I think the ozone could stand separate loads for colors and whites. But again, I’m the crazy Republican, what do I know.
-          -Houses and business are not heated/cooled to the same level as many are in the States
As for personal practices, many of us have enacted similar ‘green’ practices. Though whether this has been the result of a noble desire to try and keep the polar ice caps from melting or simply because it was more convenient remains the realm of personal conviction. Either way the result is the same. Some of these practices are:
-Taking shorter showers – save the polar bears or the natural result of having one shower shared among 6 people who all need to use it before work in the morning? You decide.  
-Using public transportation rather than driving. But let’s face it, we’re here for 7 weeks, we aren’t going to buy a car. However, many of the students also choose to walk rather than take public transportation - so long as the Belgium weather will at least compromise on its severity and settle for a simple rain shower rather than sending down nickel sized hail.
-Many of the students reuse the plastic water bottle they buy rather than throwing it away and buying a new one when they have finished it
-Wearing clothes several times between washes to reduce the number of loads required
-Buying food from local markets when possible rather than at the store where food has been transported from greater distances
While many of these practices have been taken on simply because of convenience or because there is no other choice (as in the case of using public transportation), the motivation of the act does not lessen the benefits of the result. People are always looking for ways to make daily acts of life more convenient or to spend less money, and if there are practices that can do this for them at the same time as reducing waste and cutting C02 emissions then they will use them. The cheaper and more convenient being ‘green’ becomes the more likely it is that people will take up the practices of conserving and recycling that the more noble minded of the ‘green’ movement have already instigated.

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