Copenhagen: Gray and Green

Copenhagen: Gray and Green

In Copenhagen, people are braving the cold and taking to the streets.

It’s still dark in Copenhagen at 8 a.m. and doesn’t really get light, and only then after a fashion, until around 9. At the other end of the day, the wispy clouds of the impending sunset appear on the horizon by 3:20 p.m. or so. It’s often gray, but not always. The sun does come out and the sky can be blue. But it often just as quickly recedes behind a veil of gray-white. Somehow it’s not that dreary; it’s just northern and the light can be lovely—think Vermeer, and yes, I know he was Dutch. (It probably helped my attitude that I was in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands, just about a week before I came to Copenhagen. The weather there was also quite gray and cool, although daylight probably lasted about an hour longer.) Sure it’s cold in Copenhagen, but not frigid. My first few days here I didn’t even need the extra layer of warm clothes I brought. But now I do. Snow’s expected today.

Despite the weather, large numbers of Copenhagen’s citizens are on their bikes: texting, talking, riding with kids, riding alone. No helmets to be seen, and few hats. Well, this was Viking country. The bikes are only part of the “green” vibe here. The public transportation—inter-city trains, a metro and buses—is new, fast, quiet and reliable. Everyone with a pass to the climate talks gets free transit, through Saturday (in case any of us want to see Hamlet’s castle, just north of here, to ponder being and not being in the wake of a climate deal, climate stalemate, or something, more likely in the gray area between). At the conference, waste’s separated into plastic, cans, paper and organic matter. But there’s also lots of paper being used. Printing in the well-appointed computer center at Bella, as well as photocopying, are free and unlimited. The paper trays are constantly being refilled.

What about green, climate-friendly food? Soy milk is common, unexpectedly so. Cafes have it and so do supermarkets. The Bella Center “climate kitchen” offers a daily plate—with meat or chicken and possibly fish—and a daily vegetarian plate (prices are even subsidized, with veg, as ever, cheaper). I’m told all the food is organic, even though this isn’t advertised (perhaps because it’s expected?) Yesterday’s veg plate was Provencal quiche and red cabbage salad; the young man behind the counter wasn’t sure if the eggs were from free-range hens. At the people’s climate summit or Klimaforum [link], however, the cafe is organic and vegan.

I and others here at the climate talks are often grazing for food, usually at various receptions. You never quite know when you’ll have time to eat, or where. Herbivoral or vegan cuisine doesn’t exactly abound, despite the climate-meat-dairy connection and the fact that, we are at a critical climate summit. At a Google Earth event, for instance, the hors d’oeuvres included a tray of maroon-colored sausage strips, a chicken dish, cheese, chocolate and (thankfully) hummus. Last night’s dinner was soy yogurt from the supermarket. But it was “bio” or organic, so I felt, all-in-all, pretty green. Even more so when the landlord of the apartment where I’m staying told me the waste separation/recycling being done at the Bella Center is standard in Copenhagen homes, too. His lights have compact flourescent bulbs. They’ve used them, he said, for 10 years, ever since they first came out. To him, it’s not a big deal. “Europe is so far ahead of the U.S.,” I said. “Yes, I know,” he replied, and without further comment sat down to eat his dinner: organic ravioli and beef sauce.