American Families Follow Swedish Climate Lead

On July 1, four American families became Climate Pilots in a Swedish program aimed to fight climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions on the local level.

While making a salad in her home in the Washington D.C. area, one of the participants, Kathy Stokes, says she and her family joined the program, because global warming has to be stopped.

”We have to change, it’s not an option,” she says.

While top politicians are highlighting what they call a ”global challenge,” the Climate Pilot project, started in the City of Kalmar, a small municipality in south-eastern Sweden, is geared to engage all citizens in that challenge.

In countries like the U.S, Canada and Australia, carbon dioxide emissions are about 20 ton per person and year, according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Sweden’s carbon dioxide emissions are about seven to eight tons per person and year.

At the G8 meeting last week, U.S. President, Barack Obama promised that the U.S. will reduce its greenhouse emissions by 80 percent before 2050, and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt supports EU’s goal to do the same but by 30 percent before 2020.

According to its web site, the City of Kalmar set its goal to become a fossil fuel free region by 2030, a few years ago. Kalmar politicians quickly realized that goal would not be attainable without everybody’s help. The project, Climate Pilots, was born and 12 households lived and learned how to become climate-smart for 12 months. After one year, the Kalmar Climate Pilots, had reduced their emissions by a third, or 32 percent, which translates to a reduction of greenhouse gas by 53 tons, by adjusting their lifestyles.

Some of the Kalmar project managers and Climate Pilot family members are now coaching the American families how to live climate-smart in terms of consumption, food, transportation and energy, for six months.

Kathy Stokes and her husband Nolan, say they have learned a lot just in the first two weeks. For example, they have decided to mow their lawn less often and run their dishwasher on an energy-saving short program.

”We’re starting to measure everything,” Nolan Stokes says. ”We’re starting to track what meat we eat on any given day to try and reduce where on the food chain we are eating food.”

The Stokes are focusing on eating more vegetables and less meat to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Kyrre Dahl, chief of development of the City of Kalmar, says the U.S. project is a partnership with the Swedish Embassy that invited them to be part of a climate installation in House of Sweden in Washington D.C. as part of the Swedish presidency of the EU.

”It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it’s a great honor,” says Dahl and adds that Kalmar is a pioneer internationally as far as climate-smart lifestyles. ”We have learned some great things and we are happy to share that with anyone in the world.” (MB)

Interviews and reporting by Klas Wolf-Watz in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.