by Ida Halleröd
I arrived in the Lehigh Valley in January this year from Gothenburg, Sweden. My husband got transferred here for work and I tagged along, figuring it would be one of life’s great adventures. I had slim pre-knowledge of Pennsylvania. Swedes often complain about Americans not being able to know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland—I don’t because if you give me a blind map of the U.S states and I would probably only place about ten correctly.
Within my first week here, I found the 2013 edition of this directory and was immediately impressed by the existence of such a directory and the collaborations between sustainable organizations and businesses. In Sweden, the U.S is often portrayed as the black sheep of the family, struggling for a sustainable future, so it gave me hope seeing not all is black.
I was asked to write this essay to compare Swedish sustainability struggles to American. Quite a large subject, don’t you think? As I already stated, my presence here has been short. So what I’m about to do is tell you a bit of where I come from, where my interest in a fair and green future began. Then you as a reader can compare with your wide knowledge of what’s happening here.
Early on, I was interested in how people choose to arrange their living together. Somewhere around the time that I started to call myself a grown up, I came to the conclusion that we only have this one planet. If we keep exploiting it the way we do, there will be drastic consequences. My favorite Swedish satiric cartoonist, Sara Granér, pins it down so amusingly. The translation is mine.
I get so damn provoked. Here you think you live in a competitive growth economy based on a significant industrial production and a service sector on the rise where the financial market is entering an exciting phase of expansion, then it turns out that this whole time it has just been an ordinary dirty fucking ecosystem! (Sara Granér, All I Want for Christmas Is Planekonomi)
I have pushed myself to make changes. What started with recycling escalated to cutting out red meat from my diet, learning beekeeping, growing my own tomatoes and peppers in my apartment window, overviewing my consumption patterns and exchanging them to organic and second-hand, mending the big pile of things I already own, buying a bike instead of a car (which is much easier in Sweden. Is there even such a thing as bike/walking trails along the roads in this country?).
None of these changes has made me a more sad person, rather the opposite. Now don’t go believing that all Swedes are ready to cut out meat from their diet—I can’t even get my normally very intelligent husband to do so—but what I can say is that the amount of Swedes believing there is no such thing as man-provoked climate change are so few they don’t even reach the discussion. My fellow Swedes know this is a real and acute problem and even though we have a variety of solutions, that don’t all work good together, at least we agree we need to address this, preferably yesterday.
What I’m most proud of and what has become my strongest belief in the last couple of years is that education is king. In Sweden I’m a teacher working in a pre-school.
Swedish schools have been under the political guillotine for decades. Politicians have not been listening to science. The respect for schools and the professionals within them have been hollowed. Charter schools are taking profit. Teachers are being forced to grade children’s work and administer standardized tests to younger ages, thinking that this will make us look better in international rankings. Budgets make us cut out important functions, such as special education. Group-numbers are growing, forcing teachers to go back to more disciplinary teaching methods. I’m so proud of all the students and teachers who have the strength to work in this environment, and I’m happy to say that our national curriculums in Sweden have clear goals toward sustainability. Here is a sample from the curriculum for Swedish pre-schools.
The preschool should put great emphasis on issues concerning the environment and nature conservation. An ecological approach and a positive belief in the future should typify the preschool’s activities. The preschool should contribute to ensuring children acquire a caring attitude to nature and the environment, and understand that they are a part of nature’s recycling process. The preschool should help children understand that daily reality and work can be organized in such a way such that it contributes to a better environment, both now and in the future.
I trust in a bright future. I strongly believe we can be the role models needed to take those extra steps to positive sustainable change. It’s time to go out and do and learn what you can.
Ida is a teacher from Sweden, currently living in Bethlehem.
(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)