Could Denmark-ifying the World Stop Climate Change?


Photo credit: C.G.P. Grey via Flickr/CC BY

If every country 'round the globe acted like the tiny Scandinavian nation of Denmark, we might stand a fighting chance against climate change. Not only does the country get heaps of press for its groundbreaking push for renewable energy -- it's home to the world's largest wind power company, Vestas, and plans on being fossil fuel-free by 2050 -- but its capital, Copenhagen, routinely gets ranked among the greenest in the world.

The nation's economy has grown 80% since the 1980s, yet its emissions output hasn't budged. By 2020, Denmark plans on getting 42% of its power from wind, and 20% from biomass. And that's all fantastic. Amazing, even. But Denmark is home to just over 5 and a half million people. That's a little less than 0.1% of the world's population. For the climate and clean energy strategies forged in Denmark to be truly meaningful, we'll have to seek ways to export them to the rest of the world.

In order to do that, we'll have to better understand those strategies. Which is exactly what I'll be attempting to do over the next few days. I'm going on a crash course of Danish climate action -- from touring crazy efficient waste-to-energy plants to interviewing the country's top cabinet officials to poking around Copenhagen, I'm soaking in quite a bit of sustainable action. I'll also be hanging out at Roskilde, Denmark's annual rock festival that aspires to be the greenest on the circuit.

Denmark's public-private initiative, the Climate Consortium, paid for my airfare out here and nabbed me a press pass to Roskilde, so that I might write nice things about them. The joke's on them, however -- my opinion of the Danes' energy feats was already impossibly high, and it only stands to go downhill from here ...

I kid, of course -- so far, Denmark makes the U.S. seem like a whale oil-burning anachronism. Yet implementing its model, or variants of it, poses a host of challenges. And I'll be looking at those too, as I ponder the viability of Denmark's ideas in a sprawling, messy globe. Denmark's high energy taxes, for instance, are politically difficult in much of the world. Cultural predilections help account for its astounding bike-to-work rate (the journalists from Brazil and China traveling with me point out that could never happen in their homeland; biking is understood to be the province of the poor), which is an awe-inspiring 40%. And the sustainability of biomass, which the Danes are ramping up, is still hotly debated.

But all this stuff pays off. It must -- Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest nations in the world. Copenhagen has been adorned with more 'most livable' and 'green city' accolades than Lady Gaga has costumes. Denmark is held by certain progressive thinkers to approach the ideal of liberal democracy (that's what Fukuyama's 'Getting to Denmark' notion is all about). Okay, you get it. Denmark is awesome. But even Denmark's awesomeness won't mean much if historians look back from their 10 degree-warmer world and say, 'well, those folks got it right'.

No, we've got to figure out whether it's possible to Denmarkify societies around the world -- and if it isn't, what might work instead.

More on Denmark and Clean Energy
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