The other week, I touched upon a rather touchy topic — energy-guzzling Christmas light displays — and today I’m up to it again.

I can thank the Washington Post for opening the floodgates on this one: the reality that Europeans are more carbon-sensitive — and proactive at curtailing their environmentally harmful habits — than Americans. It’s a fascinating dynamic and one, of course, that doesn’t apply to all Americans. But there’s no denying that there’s long been a cultural shift between Europe and America when it comes to eco-attitudes and behaviors. 

There is, naturally, a powerful sense of curiosity at play. America looks to European countries for ideas, inspiration, and to see what they’re doing right. And, European countries — in this particular case, Sweden, a country that emitted 7.4 tons of greenhouses gases per capita in 2005 compared to America's 23.5 tons — look to America to see what we’re doing wrong (or what we're not doing at all) and how we can be given a beneficial boost.

The Washington Post article in question details an eco-experiment of sorts in which seven adults, four Northern Virginian households in total, submitted to a six-month-long series of challenges as “Climate Pilots,” in order to help them “understand that a lifestyle that curbs greenhouse-gas emissions is not necessarily oppressive, just different.” The project was a collaboration between the Swedish city of Kalmar, where a similar Climate Pilot program took place in 2007, and the Embassy of Sweden in Washington.

Starting in July, four original Swedish Climate Pilots in Kalmar provided long-distance coaching to the Yankee guinea pigs (that's them pictured above) in four key areas including home energy use, food, leisure, and travel/transportation. Just last week, the experiment ended and each household — a couple with two children, a couple with one child, a couple, and a bachelorette — will receive a report card detailing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they averted during the six-month exercise. 

The Climate Pilot program wasn’t merely a cross-cultural compare and contrast exercise for Sweden's benefit. The Washington Post describes it as bait of sorts: “Whether Americans are willing to follow their [the Climate Pilots] example is part of the political calculation lawmakers have to make as they consider imposing nationwide limits on emissions in legislation making its way through Congress.”

So how did the Climate Pilots fare during their six months of intensive eco-coaching? One family, the Stokes, have gone as far to install a geothermal heat pump in their front yard, partake in aggressive household energy monitoring, and have even started to eat less meat. Naturally, each family blogged about their experiences as Climate Pilots so you can read more here

During a visit to the Stokes home in November, Maud Olofsson, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, reminded the family how crucial their actions are: 

You are the leaders when you say to politicians, 'Now we are prepared to change.' We want you to be brave when you make decisions. Then they will do so.
So my question is this: would you be willing to submit to such a process and be advised by a Swedish (or German, or Danish, or so on) green living coach? Or is eco-editing your lifestyle at home something you’d rather do by yourself rather than having a more "advanced" European constantly checking in on and evaluating you? 

Via [The Washington Post]

Photo: Tove Lund

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Sweden fosters green (American) guinea pigs
Four Washington, D.C.-area families become 'Climate Pilots' as part of a green living experiment instituted by the Swedish city of Kalmar.