Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Thoughts from my holidays...part 1

Although most of the time I was simply enjoying myself and not thinking about environmental issues, several things that happened made me think.

The first part of my trip was to San Francisco, where my husband was attending some meetings. The first thing I noticed upon arriving in California is that unlike in Boston, I gratefully did not have to put on a jumper every time I entered a building or a house to protect myself from the excessive use of air conditioning. Don't misunderstand me - I am not against aircon. It is sometimes very helpful and I occasionally need it to get some sleep during heat waves. But the problem is that now in the US and Canada it is used at temperatures that are way too low and also when the weather is not hot enough to justify it. This is not just uncomfortable and unhealthy - it's a serious waste of electricity. The problem is that in Europe we can start seeing a similar trend (although people mostly still keep the temperature at a reasonable level and only use it when it's really hot). In California things appeared to be different. Ok, partly, it may be because San Francisco is not particularly hot in the summer. But I think it may also have to do with successful policies and on campaigns on energy conservation - especially after the massive blackouts they had in the past.
On the downside, we did realise how difficult it is to move around California without a car (we are not used to driving any more because we have been car-less for many years in London and Brussels, thanks to good public transportation, and we were also trying to save some greenhouse emissions). For example, public transport options, although limited, do exist outside the city (we were trying to go to the Napa Valley for a wedding). However, the tourist information office hardly knew about them. We eventually managed very well (ferry boat and taxi) and wondered why it's so difficult to provide information about these options. After all, it should be about freedom of choice, right? Some people wanna drive, others don't want to, (or can't, because they are inexperienced, disabled, too young or too old, poor, or whatever).