Latvia`s economy has been growing rapidly over the last few years. In parallel to that, consumption has increased and people have started to produce an evergrowing amount of waste. Equipment that was once manufactured to last a lifetime is now replaced by newer gadgets on a regular basis. Multi purpose vehicles (MPVs) are a common sight on Latvia`s roads, which were once only populated by small and cramped Ladas, for those who could afford one. Like in many other modern countries, the environment suffers. How does that match with the Latvians` love for nature?
Nils (21) and Lelde (18, both in photo) tell me that Latvia is still far from being an environmentally friendly or even environmentally conscious country. Separating garbage is promoted by the national authorities, but oftentimes not supported by the local garbage collectors. `You are welcome to hand in different types of garbage separately, but the collectors will tell you that everything is deposited on the same pile in the end. That does not really motivate people to even think about it`.
Nils (21) and Lelde (18):
`The local authorities are not really supportive when it comes to separation of waste`
Since one year, the city of Valmiera has a station where old equipment can be disposed of at no cost. Before the station was opened, and still today in many other regions in Latvia, it has been common practice to leave old equipment in the forest. Fridges, washing machines, or chemical waste, they have all been part of the game. Local initiatives are now set up to increase people`s awareness of the environmental problems.
Cars are not only used as means of transportation but also as a proof of acquired social status. While the economy has been growing, the possession of a car became much more widespread than before. And one car is not where it ends. Ilse (42) mentions that she has seen the number of cars in her village increase dramatically over the last few years: `One car in front of one house - that used to be the norm. Now it`s two or even three, and the worst thing is, that the driver is often alone in the car. That means the pollution of a car is only divided by one. Latvians love nature, but they do not see any relation between enjoying the forest and leaving the car at home. They are likely to drive to the forest, walk around and take the car to get back home.' The main reason for people not to take a car is because the oil prices keep reaching higher and higher.
Aigars (19) tells me that environmental consciousness is strictly concentrated in Riga, where facilities have been set up to increase people`s awareness of environmental issues and to facilitate their involvement in finding solutions. Latvia is a very flat country and Riga, like many other cities, is practical for cycling. Public transportation as an alternative is quite difficult to promote, as it already meets the end of its capacity during rush hours. But getting into Riga is equally impossible by car, so public transportation is again looked at.
It`s the economy, stupid
In spite of the indifference, people do notice the climate effects. Winters used to bring a lot of snow and temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees. Recent winters have been warmer and summers are becoming longer and hotter. Not everybody is unhappy with this by the way. Although winters are favourite for skiing, many Latvians would like to see their summers last a little longer. And so it seems that the main reason left for Latvians to look at their consumption patterns a little closer resides in their wallet.
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