Adapting saves the environment
In Heffterhof, Salzburg, Innsbruckers place of residence, all of the lights work on timers. A stay in the shower of longer than 15 minutes guarantees an abrupt descent into darkness and a desperate cry to a (hopefully) sympathetic roommate to reset the light.
Outside of the kitchen stand four trash cans: one for cardboard, one for plastic, one for aluminum and one for biodegrable waste.
The parking lot across the street noticeably lacks the Chevrolet Suburbans and the Ford Explorers that dominate the asphalt fields ouside of American malls and corporate centers. The Austrian version of the sport utility vehicle most closely resembles a Toyota Rav 4 with a growth disorder.
The sidewalks outside of the residence and throughout the city of Salzburg shine spotless and trash free following a September rain storm. Meanwhile, we Americans struggle to adopt this environmentally friendly lifestyle that allows us to view clearly the tips of the Alps from Heffterhofs balconies.
We noisely lament the lack of ice in our soda and the warmth of our beer. (Certain guys in the group have resorted to the war tactic of ferociously guarding a secret stash of ice in the miniscule hall freezer.) The women in our group whine about the low voltage outlets that prohibit conveniently high powered blow dryers.
In some cases the adjustment to this new way of life has been just as traumatic as the attempt to master the particularly Austrian form of German spoke in Salzburg. On the first day Mrs. Gurtler who helps to run the study abroad program in Innsbruck loudly scolded a student for disposing of shampoo covered batteries in a bathroom waste basket. (The batteries needed to be taken to the super market or mall to be recycled.)
At the airport in Vienna I held onto a plastic drink bottle because I did not know into which colored trash can I should dispose of it.
The vastness of our country and its seemingly unending supply of natural resources have permitted us to maintain habits that stand in stark contrast to the respectful and mindful environmental routines practiced in Austria, a country lacking a Texas to provide oil and great plains onto which residents can dump bottles, cans or spare tires.
And yet Americans must wonder how much longer we will have Texas or the great plains that graciously allow us to ignore the affect of the American lifestyle on the ozone layer, on the water supply and on the land quality. As the development continues near my hometown outside of Philadelphia, arguments rage two hours north over the spaces of Appalachian mountains that will hold the waste created by the new businesses and homes two hours to the south.
This summer, scientists arrived at the North Pole to find that for the first time Santa's home rested in a flood of ocean. Gas prices rose this year for many reasons, including the greed of oil producers and the manipulation of OPEC.
However Americans need to recognize an underlying reason for the hike in thecost of oil: the unrenewable nature of this resource essential to American society's survival.
Fortunately for Americans, the economic boom of recent years has allowed the country to ignore the signs of diminishing environmental wealth. Americans in the Midwest complained about the $2.50 price per gallon but still possessed the means to fill up the gas guzzling engines of their brand new Hummers.
In the ongoing presidential campaign Al Gore has attempted, with little success, to call the attention of Americans to the decreasing quality of your environment. He has utilized this tactic mostly to distinguish himself from George W. Bush who as governor of Texas has allowed industries to manufacture and to trade with few restrictions on smog or waste production. Should Al Gore triumph on Election Day he will face a great challenge to pass any such legislation, especially if Republicans remain in control of Congress.
Yet the difficulty of our group to adjust to a conservationist and environmentally conscious lifestyle suggests that Gore would have a much greater task in convincing Americans to change their ways. Americans depend upon cars and plastic drink cups and the convience of pre-packaged, singly wrapped food. Some large cities lack even minimal public transportation.
Yet perhaps hope remains. Most of Innsbruckers enjoy the possiblity of returning our alcohol bottles for a deposit. I challenge myself every morning to finish my shower before the light goes out. (I give myself extra points if I brush my teeth as well in only one turn of the timer.) Most importantly I hope that all the Innsbruckers, including myself, learn to maintain the mindful, conservationist habits that we have been forced to adopt during our first weeks in Salzburg.
Joanna Mikulski is a sophomore spending her semester abroad in the Innsbruck program.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, September 12, 2000