Right now I'm currently studying Spanish abroad in La Universidad Cumpultense de Madrid in Spain for five weeks this summer. I'm currently enjoying myself very much here and I feel like I'm well on my way to becoming bilingual much more quickly than I thought. However, what I'm going to post here was actually a paper I wrote for my class translated into English for all of you about how Spain has made it so that living a lifestyle that uses less carbon and energy in general is the easiest and most preferable way to live. I also explain why Spain is one of the countries that is on the cutting edge of clean energy and the fight against global warming and what American policymakers should learn from them. My professor actually recommended that I translate my paper into English and send it to be published in my college newspaper which I plan on doing. But then I figured why not post this on kos as well? My paper after the fold.
When I arrived in Spain I noticed a lot of things that were just a little bit different than their American counterparts. In my taxi from Barajas Airport to Casa do Brasil [where I'm living] I saw that most of the cars and trucks on the streets were a bit smaller than they were in America. When I went up to my room at night for the first time I noticed that you had to turn the hallway lights on and then after a minute they shut themselves off automatically. When I went into my bathroom for the first time I noticed that the toilet uses far less water than an American one. All of these examples that I observed on my first day here have something in common. They are all things that Spain is doing to use less energy and natural resources.
I saw many more things after my first day that Spain is doing to fight climate change. My room has air conditioning but it makes so much noise that I can sleep with it on. This has changed the way I'm used to sleeping. Every night now I'm sleeping with an open window and I'm using far less energy to do the exact same thing. Another example is when I visited the cities of Ávila and Segovia and I saw that the price of gasoline was around one euro per liter which translated into American figures is about six dollars per gallon. Also in the countryside of Castilla-León I noticed many wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity from renewable sources without pollution of any kind. Also I am able to travel all over Madrid using their excellent subway system for very cheap without ever needing the use of a car. All of these are personal example of what I've seen done to reduce the amount of energy I use in Spain.
The Spanish government believes that climate change is a very serious worldwide problem and they have taken many significant steps to fight it. For example they have very strict regulations on polluting industry and petroleum and gasoline are heavily taxed which is the reason that gasoline costs about six dollars per gallon here. Also electricity is far more expensive in Spain than in the United States to encourage the use of less energy and therefore put less carbon into the atmosphere. The reason why the Spanish government is taxing petroleum and strictly regulating polluting industry is to provide an economic incentive for the people to change their behavior to fight global warming in their daily lives.
Some of the money raised from those taxes on gasoline is invested into making their public transportation system a better alternative to driving. All of the larger cities have a subway and bus system that covers the majority of the city and they are for the most part clean, attractive, and safe. They have also invested a lot of money in their high speed rail system, el AVE, to connect larger cities with one another with trains that travel at speeds faster than 300 km/h. These trains are a far more efficient and environmentally friendly way of moving people between cities compared to the alternatives of flying and driving. The gasoline taxes are also used to subsidize the prices of public transit in order to keep low prices and encourage usage. In Spain it is possible to live conveniently and comfortably without owning a car if you live in or around a city. In the majority of the United States it is impossible to live and work without a car.
Spain also has the long term goal of producing all of their electricity from clean and renewable sources and they are taking significant steps to make that a reality. Right now Spain is one of the worlds leaders in the production of renewable energy. One of Spain's longer term goals was to produce 30 percent of their electricity through solar and wind by 2010. As of January 2009 Spain produces 34.8 percent of their energy from wind and solar. They greatly exceeded their goal a year early. When I saw the wind farms and solar panels in the countryside of Castilla-León I did not know at the time that Castilla-León produces 70 Percent of their electricity from wind and solar. Also in 2005 Spain passed a law requiring that all new buildings to be outfitted with solar panels to produce some of their own electricity. With incentives to reduce the quantity of energy that is used and the energy that is used coming from clean renewable sources, it is possible that Spain could be the first country in the world to not have to use coal, oil, or nuclear to meet their energy needs in the distant future.
The difference between the United States and Spain with respect to climate change is very large. The United States contributes the most amount of CO2 into the atmosphere in the world and it is their policies that desperately need to change. However, the American government even with Obama does not take climate change nearly as seriously as they should. There are people like James Inhofe and Joe Barton and most of the Republican party that deny that global warming even exists. In the United States you have all of the coal and oil companies that desperately need to change the most buying off enough of Congress to prevent themselves from being forced to change disgraceful practices such as mountain top removal coal mining. Also many Americans live oblivious to the fact that these companies are absolutely raping the environment with impunity. Furthermore many do not realize that they are consuming way too much energy than they need to and can significantly reduce their energy usage with small little changes to their daily lives.
But the thing I have learned about my country from living in Spain is that in America the easiest way for the average person to live is by living a life that does nothing to help in the fight against climate change or even living a healthy life. In many parts of America there are no alternatives to driving, electricity from a coal company is incredibly cheap so there is no need to conserve energy, and the most affordable food is incredibly unhealthy and has probably been driven all the way across the country to get to you. There is little incentive to turn off the air conditioning when the outside temperature is only about five degrees warmer than it is inside. There is no incentive to install solar panels on your roof and generate your own power when your electric company charges you an extra monthly fee because you are using solar panels. In America it is expensive to eat locally grown organic food, buy a hybrid, and use renewable energy yourself and the government lacks the political will to make it any easier on the people who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
When I arrived in Spain I changed the way I lived a to live the way the Spanish do. Most of the changes were very small but right now I use less energy than I did living in New Jersey. For example, I don't sleep with air conditioning, I take shorter showers, after I wash my laundry I hang it up in my room to let it dry instead of using a dryer (granted this is much easier and faster in Spain due to Madrid's very dry summer climate) and I wear my clothes two or three times before washing them. When I can I walk or use public transportation instead of using a car. I drink water out of my bathroom sink instead of buying bottled water and I waste much less food than I did in the United States. When I do all of these things I don't really save that much energy in the great scheme of things but when an entire country does all these things the amount of energy that is conserved is large. If all 300 million Americans were to do this then I think that the environment would improve significantly. Also it is not like the Spanish are making a huge sacrifice to their standard of living by doing this. They have all of the same luxuries that Americans have, they just use them in slightly different ways that make a big difference.
What Spain is doing is trying to change the way the people live their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprints. The government has managed to make it so that it is easier to live in an environmentally friendly way than to live the average American lifestyle. They have also invested a lot of money into changing the source of their electricity to renewable sources. Because of this the Spanish people live much greener lifestyles, do relatively little damage to the global environment, and are a leader in the development and use of clean and renewable energy. Some of the changes have been very easy such as people turning off their lights when they don't need them. Some have been relatively difficult like the AVE and have required a lot of time and money. But all of the changes they have made have been worth it and it would be worth it for America to do the same thing.
And that's all. Any criticism on how to improve my writing is very much appreciated. Do note that some of the links I provide are in Spanish.