Monthly archives: January 2010

A universe in one park

flamingo
A flamingo spreads its wings in Slottsskogen, August 27 2009. Photo: Eva Obenius.

In Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg a 137 hectare big park extends over the southwestern parts. Slottsskogen, “the forest of the castle” has been a green lung for Gothenburg and its inhabitants during more than 100 years.
During the eight years I lived there I spent much time in this park, having picnics, taking walks or just passing through it on my way to work. Watching the seasons change the colours of the leaves or just hearing some bird song could make all the difference on a bad day. And it is actually proved that these “green lungs” have a significant health impact on city dwellers.

Closing health gaps

A few years ago the medical journal the Lancet actually had an article on how parks improve health and cut stress in cities. Two Scottish researchers had found that even small parks in the heart of our cities has a good effect on strokes and heart disease, and that the existence of parks is a good way of fighting health inequalities between different social groups.

A photo homage to the park

The other day I heard about a great project, which is in itself a homage to Slottsskogen and the lungs of our cities. Eva Obenius, who is a Gothenburg photographer, spends one year taking photos of this park every single day.
Until April, she publishes one of them daily on her blog. Birds flying, a ladybug on a blade of grass, the edges of a pair of skates. Watching them makes me long back to Slottsskogen.

A local adventure

After 300 days of continuous photographing, she tells me that there are of course days of grey weather when finding a subject can be a real challenge. But this project has also trained her eye, teaching her to see details she did not notice before.
And while many photographers are attracted to great expeditions in the Antarctic or Borneo, Eva Obenius shows that exploring what is close to you can also be an adventure. 

In the autumn, her work will be exhibited at the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History.

Washington families get Swedish climate coaching

climate-pilots
At the house of the Climate Pilot family Harman-Stokes in Washington DC during the first challenge on food in June last year. Photo: Tove Lund

In 2007 four families in the Swedish city of Kalmar were selected to become Climate Pilots. During one year they went through different challenges in order to live a more climate conscious life. During the project they managed to decrease their emissions by a third.
Now they are exporting their learning, becoming climate coaches for four American families in Washington DC.

On the blog of the American Climate Pilots we can follow their work. For example they have tried spending two entire weeks without shopping, prepared climate-smart dinners and are now struggling with their fourth and last challenge: Traveling.
Reading their blog posts it seems like it can be one of the trickiest. One of the pilots writes that it is hard not to drive in Northern Virginia and that he was astonished when his climate coach from Kalmar told him that she had only driven three times during the last month. I think this shows that there are things you cannot fix entirely by yourself, like public transport for example. In this case, the Climate Pilot seems to have found an excellent solution for cutting down his driving though: he works from home a couple of days a week.

It’s sure nice to be a role model at times (read this article about the project in The Washington Post), and it is great that the acquired insights of families here can be shared by others, creating new bonds and friendships over the Atlantic. In a truly global perspective, though, I still should point out that we have a lot to learn in Sweden too. The average emissions per person of CO2 in Sweden are about 6 tons (excluding for example our imported consumption and international air traffic). There are many countries with higher per capita emissions, like the US and Australia with around 20 tons per person. But there are also plenty of countries with fewer emissions. So while Washington DC gets coaching from the Kalmar families, maybe we ought to get some coaching too..?

Mapping in green

 

When I have been traveling to different countries, I have always started off with sort of a detective’s work on how to find the category of things that I like, which might not always be found in an ordinary guide book. Most of all, for me, it has been a quest to find places without consumption demands.
It can be good fun – I have great memories of being sent around the whole campus at a university in Rome in search of someone who could tell me about the Italian environmental scene, ending up in a professor’s office trying to communicate between English and Italian above a model of a whale on his desk. Other times I have cycled around Paris at night or ended up in a deserted youth hostel in a German village, looking for the perfect getaway after two hectic weeks in London.

Grey Heron spotting

There are more direct ways of finding green spaces and sustainable community development, however. In 1992 the first Green Map was made over New York. Now it has spread to over 600 cities, towns and villages in 55 countries. One of them is Stockholm, where about 60 different sites are shown, from where to spot a Grey Heron to where to rent a kayak.
One good thing is that the map is open, which allows everyone to share their best ideas. Although there are some sites where I do not really see the “green” content, like several petrol stations… However, after making your own sorting this map can be quite useful.

Young people throw less food

dustbin
Photo: Anna T/Flickr.

Earlier here in the Sustainability blog I have written about the amounts of food that is thrown away in supermarkets and school dining halls. But the truth is a lot of food is also wasted in our very private kitchens.
According to a consumers’ association here in Stockholm the food thrown away by Swedish households every year represent CO2 emissions of up to 1,9 million tons – the equivalent of what 700 000 cars would emit in the same time. A survey the association conducted about a year ago showed that more than half of the wasted food would actually have been completely okay to eat.

Trusting our senses more?

But now there is good news. Recently the same association made a new survey, asking young persons if they had noticed this discussion. It seems that a quite a few of those aged between 18 and 29 years – which was earlier shown to be the group who threw away most food – have actually started thinking about these issues and are now trying to let less food go to the dustbin.
One of the reasons why people throw away food which would actually be good to eat is that they follow the best-before date strictly. We are simply not used to trusting our noses and tongues. When it comes to me personally, the main reason is bad planning.

Packages matter

Another reason can be that we buy too big packages, with the idea that it will save money and packaging. But the truth is often that the food gets old before we have a chance to consume it, according to Helén Williams at Karlstad University. She recommends smaller packages.Read more about her ideas on how to reduce food waste through better packaging here.

Enjoying the cold, part II: Ice-hole swimming


Yes, it actually says “Water temperature 0 degrees Celcius”.

In my quest to enjoy my local winter instead of falling for the temptation of taking next plane to a warmer place, I recently took one more step: ice-hole swimming.
A lot of people, including other Swedes, look at me as if I were crazy when I tell them about this. How can anyone voluntarily jump into zero degree Celcius water? Or, for that matter, spend time in a 100 degrees Celcius room? The truth is, having a sauna and taking (quick) dips into a lake or is one of the things I like the most about the winter here.

Good for the health

According to the sauna enthusiasts, sweating in a heated wooden room is good for the health. It relaxes tense muscles and joints, increases blood circulations and sends endorphins out in the blood. Asthmatics are said to breathe more easy and those who suffer from psoriasis say their skin become softer and less itchy.

Two seconds in the water

Then the dip (Yes, dip. Calling it “swimming” is actually a slight exaggeration).
First you have to be thoroughly warm. Climbing down a ladder covered in ice is a challenge, and then – two seconds in the water makes you more awake than ever. But when you’re up in the air again, wrapped in a towel and with a pair of slippers on your feet and with the heat still steaming from your skin, you don’t even feel cold.
Well, it is a bit difficult to explain. I think it simply has to be experienced.

hole-in-the-ice