During my time in Edinburgh and while travelling to other parts of Europe (Dublin, Paris, London, and various parts of Scotland), I have been exposed to a different lifestyle than the fast-paced, stress-filled American life I am used to. This includes a more sustainable way of living. Sustainability is a widely misused term, but at its heart describes living within a balance. This can apply in an ecological sense, striving to leave a smaller footprint on the Earth. It also has social implications, attempting to create a more equitable society. From what I have seen, Europe offers many lessons for America in regards to living sustainably. For this post I am focusing on the eco-friendly aspects of European cities.
An obvious advantage Europe has is its public transportation. I obtained a bus pass in Edinburgh, and can use it to hop on any bus in the city and closely surrounding areas. While there was a bus system in my hometown city of Buffalo, NY, it was extremely inconvenient to use, often requiring one to travel far out of their way to reach a destination. The Lothian bus system I have been using here is almost always running on time, and has an extensive network of buses making it easy to get just about anywhere. One of the reasons the system works so well is because Edinburgh is such a dense city, and the bus routes can run down a handful of main roads. The sprawling cities common back in the States do not facilitate well-functioning bus systems. Europe is also equipped with a great train system that is both fun to ride and highly convenient. I have taken quick train rides to various towns in Scotland via Scotrail, as well as a 4 and a half hour high-speed train ride to London via Britrail. The subway systems in both London and Paris were extensive and fairly cheap (although somewhat confusing). Bike riding also appears to be prolific. I have noticed bike garages in Edinburgh, and while in London saw a bike rental station where the first half hour of use is free.
In Edinburgh I have also observed various energy-saving techniques. Every power outlet in my room is designed with a switch that can be flipped off, in order to guarantee electronics are not sucking away wasted energy when not being used. This simple idea that I have only observed in power outlet strips back in the States could easily be applied to newly constructed buildings, or retrofitted on existing sockets. Another difference I have observed is that the majority of people in Edinburgh do not use dryers for their clothes. The bathroom in my dorm is equipped with a drying rack, and clotheslines can be seen hanging throughout the city (which would work even better in places that do not constantly have rain).
Yet despite all of these eco-friendly aspects, there are still many of the same problems that exist in American cities. Sprawl is a major issue threatening Edinburgh, with development now occurring in the previously off-limits Greenbelt. There is still a surprisingly high amount of car traffic. The source of much of the food at the grocery stores near me is questionable. And there is always the issue of high levels of consumption.
At least Europe is getting some things right, and it would serve America well to learn from this.