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The Sweden Files: day one

Sweden has a lot of be proud of: Stockholm, the so-called capital of Scandinavia, is a beautiful, bustling city surrounded by water so clean you can drink it; its people have an aesthetic sense so ingrained that even the street benches are covetable; and environmental awareness is so strong that McDonalds serves organic beef and milk. That’s why I’m here, on an environmental study tour with a group of environmental journalists from around the world.

Hejsan from Sweden!

Fishing for salmon in the city centre, Stockholm

Sweden has a lot of be proud of: Stockholm, the so-called capital of Scandinavia, is a beautiful, bustling city surrounded by water so clean you can drink it; its people have an aesthetic sense so ingrained that even the street benches are covetable; and environmental awareness is so strong that McDonalds serves organic beef and milk.

That’s why I’m here, on an environmental study tour with a group of environmental journalists from around the world. The Minister for Foreign Affairs arranges a couple of these tours a year, and I’m going to be reporting back on what Sweden’s doing that New Zealand could learn from—and, possibly, vice versa.

Some of you might have noticed the irony: flying halfway around the world, to learn about sustainability. Believe me, I’ve noticed it too. There are some very inconvenient truths about air travel

I haven’t flown long-haul in a long while, and it’s no longer something I feel comfortable doing—physically (well, duh) and now morally/ethically/emotionally (whichever it is that makes me feel like I’ve just committed a small crime). I don’t feel quite so awful when it’s for what UK journalist George Monbiot calls ‘love miles’, which is why I’m stopping in England on my way home to see my extended family. With my English husband, and UK-based family-in-law, I still can’t imagine a future without flying.

Then there’s the ‘but we’re different’ argument for New Zealand: in a country as isolated as ours, air travel is more vital for our national psyche’s well-being (not to mention economy) than it is for almost any other country. It’s true—but it doesn’t make our flights any less polluting than anyone else’s.

Flying less is by far the hardest thing to swallow about living a sustainable life, as George describes depressingly in the clip below. Whether it’s any harder to swallow than the thought of seeing dearly loved family members less frequently is a very personal choice—although sooner or later, as the price of fuel increases and carbon limits are imposed, it’s one that will be made for us.

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There are no easy answers. Fly less, of course, and when you do fly, make the most of your trip. Combine business with pleasure; stay a few weeks, not a few days (or give it a few years: the good ol’ Kiwi OE ain’t just for kids); combine volunteering with your touring.

For their part, the airlines are making moves towards better efficiencies. New air traffic control measures—developed by the Swedish Aviation Control Authority (more on them later this week)—can save hundreds of litres of fuel per landing. And Air New Zealand’s new international luggage restrictions (20kg per passenger) should lighten the load and cut a bit of fuel for long-haul flights to and fro Aotearoa. If other passengers have as much trouble as me getting their luggage to lose weight, the embarrassment of publicly unpacking, repacking and leaving things behind at the airport could well be enough to scare many of us off international travel for a long while.

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