Why should Denmark be an example for sustainability?

(Photos by Lauren Bell/The George Washington University)

In a world facing the consequences of climate change such as increased pollution, increased health problems, and less access to the beauties of nature, it has long been overdue to find ways to build a more sustainable society. Creating a sustainable society should have many goals, but in general sustainability means having the ability to meet the needs of a current population without compromising the needs of future populations.

If the United States continues living how it is today, future populations will suffer greatly. However, cities like Aarhus, Denmark, have begun designing ways to make cities green, sustainable and happy places to live.

Cars are a major contributor to carbon emissions, and creating ways to decrease the number of cars in a city will help decrease the carbon footprint. Aarhus is a leading city in solving this problem. Their answer: bikes, walkways and easy public transportation. Aarhus has put in bike lanes that allow bikers to feel safer on the streets. From my observations, more people in Aarhus have bikes than cars.

Wherever I wanted to go in the city, the sidewalks made it possible for me to travel quickly and safely. This not only decreases car traffic but also encourages physical activity. In addition, if I ever needed to go to another side of the city, I could always take the bus. Even for a foreigner, the bus system was easy to use. While on the bus, I noticed many commuters and normal citizens using this mode of transportation; it is truly a simple and more sustainable system than using a car.

Beyond transportation, other efforts are made to "green" the city — literally. Green spaces are found across the entire city. This helps in decreasing all sorts of pollution such as sight, noise, air and water. Green spaces can include parks, gardens, playgrounds, and bodies of water.

In my opinion, green spaces in Aarhus also contribute to how happy citizens are — and they seem to be extremely happy. There are a variety of parks with trees, playgrounds, and open green areas with plenty of room to sunbathe or exercise. My favorite green space in the city was the Aarhus Botanical Garden, which provided a beautiful and serene landscape.

The city of Aarhus currently has a plan to ensure 90% of their citizens have access to green spaces by making each home just 500 meters (about 547 yards) away from a green space. This will provide citizens an escape from city life and a chance to appreciate the nature around them. If the United States can emulate Aarhus and incorporate green spaces into its cities, its citizens have a better chance at being healthier, happier, and living more sustainably.

While in Denmark, I also learned about their food systems. I came to the conclusion that the ways they prepare food are often more sustainable than what I have seen in the United States. Almost all of the restaurants I went to prided themselves on being a farm-to-table restaurant. This meant that most, if not all, of their ingredients were coming from a farm not too far away. This allows for less pollution via transportation.

Plus, most of these restaurants made sure their ingredients were grown organically and on a farm that considered their own practices sustainable. While at these restaurants the food tasted amazing, equity was definitely an issue brought into question. While farmers markets and grocery stores provide a cheaper alternative for still sustainably grown food, restaurants are definitely not affordable to all. As a student without a kitchen, I had a very hard time budgeting for food in Aarhus. While Aarhus may be ahead in creating a sustainable food system, I believe their next step is making it affordable to more people.

Denmark is much further along in creating more sustainable transportation, food and in recreating more green spaces. If cities in the United States can adapt some of these policies, I am in firm belief that the U.S. can combat the effects of climate change in a far greater way.

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