I studied abroad in Sweden, learning firsthand about the culture concerning the environment and how it differs from countries like the United States.
When in Sweden
Sweden is a powerhouse when it comes to environmental thinking. Through my own experience and from what I have learned from living in the country last spring, I have gained a better understanding of what a green country looks like. While abroad, I studied under Andreas Carlgren, the former Minister of the Environment for Sweden from 2006 to 2011. From him, I now have a deeper appreciation for environmental policy, both nationally and internationally, and the way that a country like Sweden works in the context of environmentalism.
The culture there is much different than it is here in the United States. The way of thinking when it comes to the environment is integrated completely into society. Recycling, for example, is a must. Everyone knows to sort their recyclables and people are looked at strangely if they do not. It’s a way of life; here in the United States, not so much. There are many towns and cities in the states that do not have this well-maintained, secure infrastructure. Similarly, like with public transportation, there are places in the United States where public transportation is not an option. It may be too expensive or the bus or train system may not even run enough or cover enough distance. I currently live in Chicago, Illinois, and I know that there are neighborhoods on the south side where, unfortunately, public transportation does not reach. In the grand scheme of things, mass transit can help in mitigating carbon emissions. How can this happen or even be considered when people cannot access these opportunities? This is a environmental issue, of course, but also a social issue.
It’s important to understand what environmentally conscious countries, like Sweden, are pushing forward, socially and politically. That way, other countries can one day emulate these initiatives and eventually help save the planet. Since the 1970’s, Sweden has made progressive measures to ensure that the environment has been protected. Even within the economy and industry, there has always been a common understanding that the environment is a crucial part of life. People there understand that the environment is necessary for life–it produces everything we have. Additionally, many people believe in the intrinsic value of nature, spending much of their time outdoors. It just makes me wonder: What does that mean for countries like the United States, where we have time and time again put the environment second–or sometimes last? Where do our priorities lie?