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After about ten days in Europe, I am on my way home. I have about three hours to spend in Montreal before getting my flight to Boston. I have missed quite a few posts so I will use this time to compose something about my time away.

I have been quite occupied with my International Society for Industrial Ecology conference and then spending time with friends, but have been looking around and listening to activities and thoughts about sustainability. A few things are very evident. At least in the two countries I visited, Portugal and Switzerland, recycling is taken very seriously. In Lisbon, I found sparkling new collection stations sited throughout the city. Each station or ecoponto had three or four attractive metal containers for glass, plastics and metal, and paper and cardboard packaging. The areas around the containers were clean. Older stations used large plastic collectors as in the photo. The national waste management law requires one ecoponto for every 500 inhabitants.

The same is true in Geneva. They have been recycling for quite a while. Our friends even live in a recycled house. The main beam over the kitchen has the date, 1569, inscribed on the face. Some of the house may still go back that far. They live in a small village about 20 kilometers from the center, amidst many working farms. Most were growing wheat and were just starting to harvest it. Against great pressure to develop land around Geneva, the zoning restrictions are very strict. Within the villages, it is still possible to build, but it is very difficult to convert agricultural land to housing development. The setting itself certainly influences my state of mind. One can see Mont Blanc from their home and from many vantage points in Geneva, even as one stands by the edge of Lake Leman.

I can’t help but think how different our practices and attitudes are in the US. Recycling is certainly around, but not so much as something everyone does and understands why. Land is used for the highest use value the market will bear. Development can proceed almost without any serious obstacle. Public pressure can be brought to bear to protect land for its amenity value or to maintain agriculture, but only with great effort.

I sense a greater sense of the environment as part of one’s home. Being home is more than just living in a structure. The idea of the American Dream runs against the current of European attitudes. Both cultures have their good and their bad points. But the endless vistas that have been the engine empowering the US culture no longer seem quite so close at hand. They are physically disappearing as the environment becomes less able to support unceasing development, and cannot be a place to escape even in that Dream. We have much to learn from Europe where historical needs to adapt to life in cramped areas and to husband scarce lands have left the people with a heightened sense of the perils of unsustainability.

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