Swedes weigh global warming versus a better tan
Eco-minded Scandinavians crave winter vacations. Yet the long flights add to greenhouse gases. Should they hit the beach or save the planet?
(Page 2 of 2)
"We're talking enormous travel distances, so even if the flight is full, the total emission per passenger will be fairly high," says Kjell Andersson, head of energy and transport at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. "One Sweden-Thailand round trip is equivalent to putting 15,000 kilometers [9,300 miles] on your car for several years."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Such facts jolt Katarina Eriksson. The hardware store employee just returned from a three-week trip to northeastern Brazil and says she knows "we're destroying the world." She and her husband travel abroad every fall and spring – usually to Greece – and plan eventually to retire away from the cold climate of Mora, their home town in the middle of Sweden.
After trying a winter trip to the tropics this year, they're contemplating adding India to their 2009 itinerary. "You think of your kids and grandchildren – what will life be like for them?" Ms. Eriksson says. "But I live for these trips. I used to get depressed every fall and winter, and I think our trips really helped me overcome that."
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency recently asked the government to curb airport construction and to impose stricter emissions caps on existing airports to make flying more difficult and expensive. Mr. Andersson also hopes that a future European aviation emissions trading scheme, which uses economic incentives to curb pollution, will slow the travel frenzy – especially in a weakening economy. "We don't tell people to stay home, but we can apply financial pressures," he says.
Like many people in the industrialized world being asked to sacrifice to cool the planet, Swedes hope technology will preserve their tan lines. Eric Persson is a young Swedish-Brazilian entrepreneur who built the hotel where Eriksson and her husband stayed in South America. He's proud of Sweden's environmental reputation. He's considering installing solar panels on his hotel property, and uses a green ionization technology to clean his pool instead of chlorine.
"Of course, no matter how you twist and turn this thing – tourism flights hurt the environment," Mr. Persson agrees. "But I don't think you can stop it. You can't expect Swedes to stop traveling to the sun. We just have to trust that the aviation technology will develop and get cleaner."
• • •
One in 10 Swedes surveyed recently by Stockholm-based Nordea Bank said they planned to buy a second home abroad within the next two years. With Spain's sun coast now out of economic reach for many middle-class families, they're turning their search to countries such as Thailand, Gambia, and Brazil.
Other sunbirds simply take advantage of low-cost destinations such as India, where they can stay for months in cheap guesthouses without defaulting on bills back home.
Sussi Oskarson and her partner, Jonnie Cronquist, were spending the winter in Goa – she after taking a leave from her job at a credit company and he thanks to a government disability pension. At their country home south of Stockholm, they're sticklers for recycling and composting their waste.
"What you take from the earth you should return," Mr. Cronquist explains over a drink in a beach bar where laid-back Indian waiters like to greet customers in Swedish or Russian. "That's how we renew our world."
"And at the same time we travel so much," Oskarson adds with a grimace. "It's a paradox, isn't it?"