Sweden Invades DC: WaPo Hails First Wave of 'Climate Pilots' to Instruct Us on Car-Free Lifestyles

January 3rd, 2010 7:02 PM

The front page of Saturday’s Washington Post heralded the first wave of a new evangelism in the United States. It’s not for a religion, per se, but they are definitely disciples of a lifestyle (and a government-style). Reporter Juliet Eilperin explained the Embassy of Sweden has found four Washington-area families to serve as "climate pilots" to teach others the need to stop driving cars and using fossil fuels. Take the Nolan Stokes family of Falls Church, Virginia:

There's even an official name for the Stokeses, along with three other households in Northern Virginia: They are Climate Pilots, guinea pigs in a Swedish experiment aimed at helping U.S. citizens understand that a lifestyle that curbs greenhouse-gas emissions is not necessarily oppressive, just different.

"Not oppressive, just different." It should have been Al Gore’s campaign slogan. Eilperin explained how Europe feels the United States is full of savages who need socialist civilization:

The Climate Pilots program exemplifies the broader dynamics at play in the international climate debate: Europeans impatiently nudging the United States and other countries toward a less carbon-intensive lifestyle.

Eilperin established the Europeans as the climate hard-liners (okay, liberal reporters tend to avoid terms like "hardliners" for people who think you should give up highway driving.) She doesn’t explain that the Europeans didn’t meet their own last set of emissions targets set at Kyoto during the Clinton years:

The gap between American and European attitudes on global warming was on striking display during the recent U.N.-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen. The Europeans had already decided to impose constraints on themselves and were willing to accept them in an international agreement, while the Obama administration, for all of the president's interest in the issue, was wary of political backlash at home and pushed for a more modest pact.

Throughout Europe, conservatives vie with liberals to claim the title of "most green," and European Union rules require everything from energy-efficient building codes to disclosing a home's overall carbon output when it goes on the market. The oil crisis of the 1970s prompted many European governments to permanently shift direction decades ago, while Americans responded by briefly turning down their thermostats and driving smaller cars, then quickly returning to old ways when oil prices came down.

Green is all the rage in Europe, but Americans are energy pigs, the Post insisted, complete with data from the far-left World Resources Institute (I read an old pamphlet of theirs about going everywhere on your bicycle – have we seen a theme emerging yet?)

It looks like a long road for Americans. In 2005, the United States emitted 23.5 metric tons of greenhouse gases per capita, according to data analyzed by the World Resources Institute, four times the world average. The 27-member European Union emitted 10.3 tons per capita, while Sweden came in significantly lower, at 7.4 tons.

In absolute terms, the United States and China together account for a little more than 40 percent of the world's carbon output.

Tim Herzog, a climate policy analyst at the World Resources Institute, said the difference stems from two basic things: what we burn for fuel and how much we drive. Fossil fuels account for nearly three-quarters of our fuel mix, according to the Energy Information Administration, compared with just more than half of Europe's. Over time, Herzog said, the United States could shift its energy sources and driving patterns.

But the Swedes, who have made climate change a central pillar of both their domestic and foreign policy for more than a decade, are trying to speed things up. They've already done it in cities of their own such as Kalmar, where 12 Climate Pilots cut their average greenhouse-gas emissions by nearly a third in one year. The entire city aims to be fossil-fuel-free by 2030.

Can you smell what Sweden is cooking? They want America to be "fossil-fuel free." Kiss your energy resources goodbye. There’s more on how strict the enviro-evangelists are on the American slackers:

At times, there has been a culture gap. Angela Ulsh, a Climate Pilot who teaches second grade at the school, remembered a video conference call with her Swedish coach in Kalmar, who mentioned he had used his car only three times during the past month.

"You've got to be kidding me," Ulsh replied. "I've used it three times in one day."

Other challenges were easier: All four households have shifted their eating habits after learning that raising cattle, pigs and poultry generates significantly more greenhouse-gas emissions than growing vegetable crops.

"I found it's just become second nature to make meatless meals," said Mya Akin, who teaches second grade alongside Ulsh and lives in Alexandria with her husband, Isaiah.

In Sweden, every community has a climate and energy adviser, and the government launched "study circles" on climate across the nation in the early 1990s.

That sounds to a lot of religious Americans like a series of in-home Bible studies, except the worship is devoted to the planet instead of God. Very late in the story comes an obligatory quote from the Heritage Foundation. It comes at the perfect time for a liberal newspaper. It’s used simply to set up a liberal rebuttal that ties up the story nicely with everything but a slogan at the end:

David Kreutzer, a senior policy analyst in energy economics and climate change at the conservative Heritage Foundation, suggested that the model might not mesh well with this country's traditional values: "Americans might be more inclined than Swedes to see the programs as unwanted busybody interference with their daily life."

But try telling that to Nolan Stokes, who extols the virtues of energy meters and thermal leak detectors to his clients and writes about his environmental activities on a local listserv.

"It doesn't take many adapters to start spreading the word if they're passionate about it," he said on the day that he broke ground on his geothermal unit, with [Swedish deputy prime minister Maud] Olofsson wielding a shovel alongside him.