In the Crisis
Elizabeth Kolbert, in her sweeping survey of climate change (“A Vast Experiment,” November 28th), makes a stimulating contribution to the national conversation about this challenge. I especially appreciated her discussion of the role of narratives in spurring (or stalling) action. As Kolbert points out, pessimistic narratives can be limiting. But, in the U.S., examples of making radical change to curb or adapt to the climate crisis are hard to come by. If we incorporated instances of progress into our story of the crisis, perhaps our culture would be more deeply engaged with transitioning to sustainable energy.
One generative source of alternative narratives is Europe, where many communities, cities, and regions have taken transformative measures. Copenhagen, for example, has one of the world’s most successful district-heating systems, which supplies energy to ninety-eight per cent of the city’s buildings, largely by capturing waste heat from electricity plants. The system cuts household bills by nearly fifteen hundred U.S. dollars a year, and saves Copenhagen—which plans to become carbon-neutral this decade—more than seven hundred thousand tons of CO2 emissions annually. Austria offers another encouraging case. Twenty-five years ago, the town of Güssing was one of the poorest in the country, a forgotten frontier along the former Iron Curtain. Since 2001, when the town began producing all of its heat and power from renewables, its economy has been revitalized, and the municipality of four thousand people has become a model for how to transform a place with green energy.