During a more than three decade effort by the entire nation of Denmark to evolve the way it uses energy and implements other environmental policies, the citizens of Denmark have consistently pursued high goals with a long-term vision. The nation went from 99% dependence on energy imports in 1975 to total energy independence today. Unemployment hovers in the 4% area, which is less than half that of the USA. Denmark ranks at or near the top of the list of world country happiness of its citizens according to many studies, and at this time has a strong economy and a high quality of life despite the worldwide economic slowdown. It all started with a vote in 1975 to accept a large tax on gasoline and to make improved energy and environmental practices central to national policy. Social policies and attitudes are connected with the high sense of well-being in Denmark.
Unlike some other developed countries, they accepted a modest level of "sacrifice" and have been reaping the rewards ever since. Their ability to act in unity for the benefit of the entire country, and to accept short-term tradeoffs for long-term benefits, is a lesson worth studying. The following article from EESI summarizes the seminar on this topic held by EESI on November 24, 2009. The associated video shows the actual presentations on that day, and contains what is truly dramatic information, although presented in a low-key manner. In addition to energy independence, the nation has found ways for businesses to innovate and develop new green methods of doing business that benefit the company, their nation, and the environment. Examples of this are also discussed in the video.
On November 24, 2009, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Embassy of Denmark held a briefing on how Denmark has transitioned to a low carbon economy and emerged as a global clean energy technology leader. Much of the debate over climate policy in the United States has focused on costs, job losses, and concern about international competitiveness. However, multiple analyses and case studies show that addressing climate change can actually bring multiple benefits. This briefing explained how Denmark has reduced its carbon footprint by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and how this strategy has translated into a thriving economy and a high quality of life for its residents. Speakers for this event included:
Denmark is hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15) negotiations in Copenhagen beginning December 7, 2009. The Danish government hopes that the conference will produce a binding political agreement to limit global warming to a 2°C increase.
When the energy crisis hit in the 1970s, Denmark was 99 percent dependent on foreign energy. Today Denmark has achieved energy independence.
Since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent. Over the same timeframe, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark's gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 percent.
Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the EU, due to carbon pricing (through energy taxes, carbon taxes, and the "cap and trade" system known as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme), strict building codes, energy labeling programs, and other policy measures. Denmark has spurred renewable energy development by establishing feed-in tariffs and modernizing the electric grid.
Renewable resources supply 17 percent of Denmark's total energy and the government plans to reach 30 percent by 2030.
Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 percent of Denmark's electricity, despite having no hydropower resources. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass.
Denmark has radically changed its waste management strategies in recent decades. Today, Copenhagen puts only three percent of its waste into landfills and incinerates 39 percent to generate electricity for thousands of households.
Denmark's investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy has driven rapid growth in its clean energy industries, with Danish companies such as Vestas, Novozymes, Dansico, Grundfos, and Danfos emerging as world leaders. Clean energy technologies account for about 10 percent of total Danish exports and Denmark's unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.
Novozymes is the world leader in enzymes for biofuel production. One kilogram of enzymes takes 1-10 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce, but can reduce CO2 emissions further along the process by 30-3,800 kilograms. A World Wildlife Federation study commissioned by Novozymes found that biotechnology can reduce up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions while creating 800,000 jobs in the sector by 2022.
COWI is a Danish consultancy that focuses on district energy and combined heat and power (CHP). CHP systems can reach 90 percent energy efficiency, compared to 40 percent for electricity-only production, because the "waste" heat is used to heat and cool surrounding buildings.
Denmark still relies on coal for 52 percent of its electricity, but the efficiency gained through CHP has allowed the country to reduce its emissions substantially. More than half of Danish electricity is produced in CHP plants, compared to a global average of only nine percent.
District energy, which uses a network of pipes to provide space and water heating for multiple buildings, is the "best hidden secret" in energy because it is a proven technology that can use any fuel, is quiet and invisible, and is a cost-effective form of energy storage. Sixty percent of buildings in Denmark and 98 percent of buildings in Copenhagen are connected to district energy systems.
Grundfos is a Danish company with 17,000 employees worldwide that creates the pumps used for district energy systems. The company attributes Danish energy government policies and workforce training programs for its success because they allow systems-thinking on a city-wide scale, instead of only considering specific buildings.
My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.
Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.
I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.