In the last several years I have seen rather dramatic examples of how people have changed the environment. In the US, as I write, one of the worst oil spills ever is changing the Gulf of Mexico, deserts grow due to water consumption in the west, while in the east, mountains are removed to extract fossil fuels. I have often wondered…Can we change for the better?  After traveling to Europe to participate with the Lake E science conference, I wanted to share a few of my observations from Germany.

    Can we turn off the lights? YES! Actually it took me a while to figure out how to turn on the lights in our hotel. After trying all the light switches multiple times, I noticed a slot near the room door indicating that the hotel room key should be placed in the slot. When I did this, all the lights that I had switched on, came on. We removed the key as we left the room for the day, and all the lights and power automatically was switched off.

    Can we benefit by having smaller cars? YES! I have seen so many Smart cars and similar small Fiats, Minis, Audi’s, Mercedes even super small Fords. Think of the possibilities…no need for parallel parking when you can perpendicular park!

    Perpendicular parking with a Smart car.

    Can we ride bikes? YES! I mentioned in a journal the other day that there were LOTS of bikes in town… but for those without a bike… how about “Call-a-Bike? These bikes are all over town… for a small fee, simply use your mobile phone to call the company, enter the number of the bike and you receive a code to unlock the bike and ride. If it is gone when you are ready to leave, you will not have to walk far to find another one.
    Call a bike
    Call-a-bike, bike rental service in Cologne.

    Can we do something about our carbon emissions? YES! In the Cologne airport, small computer terminals were set up for air travelers to purchase carbon off-sets for their flight. By entering the destination code on your ticket, the computer calculates the carbon production costs for air travel. Then travelers may contribute to forest planting projects in India.
    CO2 Kiosk
    Purchase carbon offsets from this kiosk in the Cologne airport.

    Can we use renewable energy? YES! From the air I could see many wind turbines generating electricity. When walking in the Cologne shopping district, I noticed a beautiful blue building. As I got closer to the building I recognized that the walls of the building were made out of solar panels!
    Solar Wall
    Solar panels on the side of a store front.

    Can we recycle more plastic? YES… but how about re-using it first! I was surprised to notice when I got a Coke in the University café that it was in a very heavy and thick plastic bottle. Then I noticed many of the other bottles were a little scratched. With a little explanation from my friends, I was taken to this machine…
    Bottle Machine
    Not a Coke Machine, a bottle return machine

    After placing my “empty” in the compartment, the machine returned 15 Euro cents (approximately 20 cents US)!
    Bottle Machine
    Place the bottle in the slot, push the green button, get paid! 15 Euro cents.

    If it was this convenient in your hometown… would you?

    T-Mart… back home in NC

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