It is wildly overwhelming to stand before the doom and gloom of climate change and then feel good about riding your bike, or recycling.
So, do we just say forget it?
Or do we start somewhere? Where we can?
It’s not perfect. It’s not what I recall seeing in the Utopian slideshows at sustainability workshops and green living festivals: where impossibly white towers laced with ivy and peppered with balcony trees rise high above a shimmering green pedestrian footpath, where watercolor people wave to passersby on the bicycle highway next to them. And you just know that somewhere in that picture there’s a cafe serving delicious meat made in a sparkling laboratory powered by solar energy, garnished with freshly picked local sprouts, served by robots because humans don’t work in the service industry anymore. They spend their days playing music, having sex and frolicking. No, it wasn’t like that at all.
And don’t get me wrong. That picture of what could be could actually be. But it lies not only on the other side of capitalism. It lies on the other side of decades of work reshaping everything from global politics to socially accepted systems of hierarchy. And perhaps most importantly and pressing, it lies on the other side of mitigating climate change immediately and globally. These massive shifts are possible but not probable. So, should we just throw up our hands and say fuck it? Do we simply put out the picnic blanket and watch our slow suicide unfold day by day – like some twisted Truman Show? Or do we try in our imperfect ways to change things – understanding that the toxic horseman of the apocalypse is still galloping on unfettered capitalism towards our doom?
It’s an overcast day in Växjö. The train pulls into the station and only a few people get off. It’s clear that I’m the only tourist as others walk briskly left and right while I fumble with my hand-written directions to an air bnb. In place of the station there’s a giant construction site. Bold and bright lettering announces the 2020 arrival of a new Central Station and City Hall, built of course to the newest and greenest of eco-standards. At first blush, this small city of roughly 91,000 people doesn’t look too different than your average Swedish town. There’s the mild hustle and bustle of a weekday afternoon: pedestrians, bikes, some cars and buses. The various political parties have set up their information tents, hoping to sway some passing voters to their side before the September 9th election.
So at first, I was disappointed. Having decided to trek the 4 hours to the self-proclaimed “Greenest City in Europe,” I had kind of expected glimpses of that green Utopia, not a slightly more under- construction version of the city I just came from. To be fair, there is a Harry Potter castle. But nary an ivy wrapped white tower.