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Letter to the Editor: Our community can learn a lot from what Denmark has done

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The Jobs of the Future

We all hear so often about the low-carbon “jobs of the future,” but until we’ve seen them with our own eyes, they can be hard to imagine. Last week, I traveled to Denmark with a bipartisan delegation of five Republicans and six Democrats from the State House of Representatives to see just how a rural economy can create jobs while also reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Denmark hasn’t always been a leader in clean energy jobs. Until recently, Denmark’s number one export was pig meat and their manufacturing industries were heavily reliant on coal, natural gas, and petroleum. A deliberate effort to break the addiction to fossil fuels has resulted in a greener, more profitable agricultural industry and new exports such as medicines and wind energy technologies. Our community can learn a lot from what Denmark has done to create a strong, diversified economy built on jobs that are both environmentally-responsible and high-paying.

Kalundborg, a town almost exactly the size of Lynden, has a remarkable industrial project employing over 5,000 people. It’s designed around the concept of Industrial Symbiosis, an association between industrial facilities and companies in which the waste or byproducts of one become the raw materials for another. Each company creates value for its neighbors via an intricate network that transforms one company’s waste steam, gas, water, gypsum, fly ash, or sludge, into valuable inputs for another company. I saw the waste products from a Novo Nordisk insulin production plant used to generate biogas, a renewable replacement for natural gas. Being able to save money on inputs or lower disposal costs has attracted innovative companies to Kalundborg and corporate cultures that value a circular economy.

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Samsø Island, once a meeting place for Vikings, is now home to an economy driven by farming and tourism. In 1997, the island was dependent on oil and coal imported from the mainland. Today, Samsø produces more energy than it uses. Farmers have installed wind turbines on their land and lease out space for additional turbines that are owned by the community. Partial community ownership has meant people are proud of the turbines and broad ownership means people think they are somehow less noisy and more aesthetically pleasing. Farmers also produce biogas from manure, straw, and other agricultural wastes, which is burned to create heat for the island. Meanwhile, solar panels power electric vehicles and heat homes.
In rural Jutland, researchers from Århus University are working on new pathways to generate biogas from manure and waste, turn products that require minimal water and fertilizer such as grass into superior cow and pig feed, synthesize biocrude from waste, and create fertilizers with the precise ratios of N, P and K for local crops and soil conditions. Processing manure generates value as well as avoids the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and removes excess ammonia, which makes the neighbors happy because it reduces the smell. Because transporting agricultural waste long distances is expensive, these jobs are guaranteed to stay in rural communities and deliver dividends to local farmers, rural residents, and local entrepreneurs.

In a week of global climate strikes and engagement at Whatcom County Council meetings, it is clear Whatcom is at a crossroads. What will our economy look like in 15 years? 30? I’m committed to working toward a local economy that is cleaner and more vibrant, while still valuing rural livelihoods, family-wage jobs, and domestic agricultural production. If Denmark can do it, so can Whatcom County!

And I’m hardly the first Whatcom resident to dream this way. Local engineers, technicians and farmers are already building this economy with biodigesters and biotech projects like the ones Ferndale-based company Regenis is pioneering. I’ve seen their products in action – like the high-tech manure management system they built in partnership with the state government at Coldstream Farms in the Southfork.

What more can we do together? Denmark reminded me how much we can accomplish by working rural with urban, liberal with conservative, and public with private to transition to a clean energy economy. Now that I’m home, I look forward to working with leaders across Whatcom County to build a more sustainable, circular economy. Nobody knows exactly what the future holds, but I got a peek at one possible version in Denmark, and I’m pleased to report that it looks like a future I’d feel good about passing on to our kids.

Sharon Shewmake
State Representative for the 42nd Legislative District, which includes Ferndale

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  1. Marilyn Rasmussen October 1, 2019

    Wow. Another politician on a taxpayer funded junket to Denmark trying to tell us how wonderful windmills and solar panels are. Do the trip in January and tell me how many electric cars are driving around using only local solar panels. You cite a little island in a little country that has little cars and a totally government funded economy and want to transplant it to Whatcom County. How about keeping our own private businesses running with minimal government regulations and restrictions and in 15 years Whatcom County will still be a good place to live and work. Yes we are at a crossroads and the whole dam county council needs to be replaced – Barbara excluded, but even she is throwing in the towel.

  2. Donna Starr October 1, 2019

    The damn you were trying to feel is spelled with an n. Small thinking will just continue frustration with water, salmon, energy, jobs based on old technology and other issues. We must think, plan and educate outside of the current box. Forward does not mean same and secure. Our estimated growth means tighter parameters, more planning action and creating new well paying jobs.

    • Marilyn Rasmussen October 2, 2019

      Why Donna, aren’t you such a noble and forward thinking person to correct my spelling. Thank you so much for that. The frustration with water, salmon, energy, and jobs is the absolute control that government wants over everything. There is no water problem in Whatcom county but it is a way to control, the Lummis net the mouth of the Nooksack and we are the problem. There are good well paying jobs here today that the council is trying to destroy. As far as energy, there is no way windmills and solar panels will replace fossil fuels and trying to jam them down my throat at every turn in annoying. In fact fossil fuels have lifted more people out of poverty than any other single factor in the world. If windmills and solar panels are such great ideas it would seem the private sector would run with them to make profits from here to Mars and back. But the truth is the technologies only exist in the limited amounts that they do because of high government subsidies – my tax dollars. And forward doesn’t mean secure? What! Why would I jump out of that airplane without a parachute? And the last thing I want is for you to educate me.

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