The Environmental Atlas of Europe is a UNEP-EEA-European Space Agency joint project showcasing, through short films, communities responding to environmental change across Europe. The films present a series of inspirational stories about how people are responding to climate change and transforming their lives for a more sustainable future.
Visit the European Environment Agency website: www.eea.europa.eu/cop15/bend-the-trend/environmental-atlas-of-europe-movie for nine stories, briefly summarized in written word and presented in video format, each 5 to 7 minutes long. The stories are from:
Denmark – living off sustainable energy sources to provide heating and power for 46,000 people in Thisted in northwest Jutland. The community derives 100% of its power and 85% of its heating from renewable sources, mainly solar, wind, geothermal and biomass (from incineration of agricultural, industrial and household waste). The excess electricity is sold back into the central grid and the profits are used for local health and educational systems. School opening times are staggered so that fewer school buses are needed, thereby reducing the emissions from the buses.
Baltic – fighting against a diminishing ice road to the island of Hailuoto in the Gulf of Bothnia. In the past the ice road, an important connection between the island and the mainland for islanders, was usable from November to mid-April or mid-May, but now it opens only by February and closes by mid-April or earlier. The shift is attributed to climate change that is also threatening the cod supply in the Baltic Sea. What is happening in the Baltic may prefigure the changes to come in the Arctic.
Poland – preserving and restoring Bialowieza Forest on the Polish-Belarusian border. The forest covers 1200 km2 and is the largest surviving virgin woodland in Europe with tall trees, peat bogs, and meadows filled with grey wolves, lynx, elk, and a large herd of rare European bison. It also serves as an invaluable open-air laboratory for scientists studying this preserved natural ecosystem that has hardly been touched by human hands.
Ireland – creating a sustainable new town, ecovillage, outside Cloughjordan, County Tipperary. For 10 years a group of people have been creating an ideal community based on sustainable principles applied to housing, power systems, jobs, producing their own food, and local transport. The ecovillage covers 27 hectare (67 acres) and has the largest district heating system in Ireland powered by wood-chip boilers and solar panels with underground insulated pipes delivering the heat to the homes and flats. Fruit trees line pathways, there are allotments (100m2) where individuals can grow their own fruit and vegetables, and a community farm (operated in conjunction with the wider community) provides milk, meat, eggs and other produce with few food miles for transport. The residents also have Ireland’s only shared car ownership scheme.
Georgia – reestablishing windbreaks, to protect soils and crops, in the Shiraki valley. Historically the area was a major producer of wheat and sunflower seeds. When Georgia became independent from Russia, and its energy supply was cut off, people cut down trees for firewood that stripped the land of wind breaks against desert winds and destroyed the habitat for many species of plants and animals. With a warming climate and increased winds and drought, the topsoil is even more stressed. The local people are now working with support form the German national government and have planted 32,000 young beech, hornbeam, wild cherry, wild pear, oak and other species developed from specially grown seedlings and with biodegradable shells to protect against the wind and sheep. It is hoped that sufficient shade will be provided to make the region once again an important producer of wheat.
Netherlands – building floating housing in the village of Maasbommel to counter rising sea levels. With a third to a half of the country below sea level, the Dutch have always paid particular attention to their environment. Following devastating floods in the 1950s, from storm surges and spring tides, major engineering projects were designed and built to protect against sea rise. But then in the 1990s the Rhine and Meuse rivers overflowed and hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. As a consequence the Dutch have developed ways of combating both sea and river flooding. This adaptation includes allowing “Room for the River” to overflow without destroying people’s lives and homes. Part of that system is “floating urbanization” the design and construction of houses that float on the rising water and that use the water (which retains heat) as the source of heating and cooling the houses. Plans are also being made for creating entire floating cities. In a sense these floating houses are modern-day versions of houseboats.
Russia – struggling to preserve water supplies in Nizhny Novgorod. The 1.3 million people and industry in the Upper Volga Basin, fed by the Volga and Oka Rivers, depend on the water from the basin for drinking water and for manufacturing. While dependable and predictable in the past, the water supply is now subject to extremes – flooding in some months then low flow that threatens drinking water safety – attributed to climate change. Automated monitoring stations are being developed to better forecast extreme events and engineering solutions are being explored for managing these extreme events.
Lapland – fighting climate change to protect reindeer herds in the Arctic region of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. For thousands of years, the Sami have herded reindeer for meat and other products for the sustenance of their community. The Sami have always faced severe environmental conditions and have adapted to changing conditions as a result of forestry, tourism and mining. Now they face impacts from climate change, especially the warming temperatures that have mixed rain with the snow. The rain creates ice-encrusted ground that is impossible for the reindeer to break through to get at the lichen below. In addition, the tree line is moving upward and encroaching on the tundra where the reindeer graze. Up to 90% of reindeer have starved to death in some years. As a result the Sami have been forced to buy expensive fodder and move to other lands. Such emergency measures cannot for long protect the Sami way of life.
Italy – creating an organic farm with solar-powered energy and sustainable practices in Tuscany. The estate southeast of Florence now has 600 hectares of farmland and 600 hectares of woodland, employs 130 people and produces 60 organic foodstuffs, including wine, olive oil, cheese, tomatoes, and pasta. No chemicals or pesticides are used and power is provided by solar panels, with excess power sold to the central grid. Bran from wheat and manure from sheep are used to add nutrients to the soil in the vineyard, and to absorb carbon. The woodland also absorbs carbon. Transport of produce uses GoGreen certified shipping that contributes to carbon offset projects. The estate actually has a negative carbon footprint and each year stores nearly 2 million kg of CO2 equivalent.