RIGA - It's not easy being green, especially in the Baltics. The government, businesses and private citizens have taken the first steps toward living greener and helping reduce harmful effects to the environment, but change is slow moving.
With tight government budgets troubling all three countries, the environment often takes a distant second to employment, security, and the economy.
Businesses, sensing new opportunities, have made the leap and started to rev up the green living machine.
The most noticeable action taken by businesses is the sudden ban on complementary plastic bags. Grocery stores such as Maxima, Stockmann and Rimi no longer provide the free plastic bags they once did. Now they instead offer cloth bags available for sale at reasonable prices.
When asked if this was helping promote green living and reduce pollution, however, Iluta of Maxima said she wasn't sure.
"People already used cloth bags in the beginning, and now more people do. So far not many people have bought our store's cloth bags, but in the future there will be more."
Iluta said the stores still offer plastic bags at an additional cost.
"People don't mind paying the extra 5 santims (7 euro cents) to get a plastic bag"
Consumers are also either indifferent or see no point in eliminating plastic bags 's many feel that there are more important things to worry about.
Dace, a customer at Rimi in Riga's Old Town said, "We didn't have plastic bags 20 years ago, and we don't need them now either. People have more important things to worry about, such as how they're going to pay for their next meal or for heating."
Recently the government of Latvia 's partly to adhere to tightening EU standards and partly to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the country's independence 's has run a number of environmental campaigns. Even President Zatlers and his family participated in the activities when 86,787 bags of garbage were collected by participants.
Latvia has made the first steps toward promoting green living, and now other nations have banded together to help raise awareness and start their own campaigns in the Baltics.
Ambassador Richard Moon of the British Embassy takes an active role in bringing public awareness to climate change and global warming in the Baltics.
The conference "Climate Change: Everybody's Business" on climate change in Riga was funded and produced by cooperation with the Confederation of British Industries and the carbon trust in mid-October 2008. Working with the Latvian Employers' Confederation, the British Embassy organized the conference with the aim of demonstrating the benefits of climate-friendly practices and the advantages of reduced use of fossil fuels.
"It was to show that climate change is a threat that people don't realize so much here," explained Ambassador Moon.
"With global warming the ice caps can melt and Latvia might essentially be underwater in an extremist possibility," Moon told The Baltic Times.
Ambassador Moon also emphasized that this is far from being just a Baltic concern.
"Gordon Brown and others in the U.K. see climate change as sort of the great challenge to their generation. If this generation doesn't seize and solve the problem post Kyoto, it will be a lost opportunity and future generations will suffer," he said.
There are many projects funded and supported by the EU in the Baltics as well, mostly concerning water purity and reducing air pollution. The governments of all three nations are also standing by the Riga Declaration made in June 2008.
"The Lithuanian society is working to exercise the right to receive information and participate in the making of decisions in the environment sector, as stipulated in the Aarhus Convention," said Minister of Environment Arturas Paulauskas.
To work toward achieving this goal, the country has already ratified the amendment to the Aarhus Convention regarding genetically modified organisms in food and animals.
The Baltic states are also working together on environmental matters. In early November, a mysterious and tragic environmental event brought the Latvian and Lithuanian Ministries of the Environment together to investigate the unexplainable death of tens of thousands of fish in the Musa River.
Daina Ozolina, a representative of the Latvian Environment Ministry, said that Lithuanian colleagues confirmed the death of a great number of fish, mostly perch, about 30 kilometers from the Latvian border.
Lithuanian experts started taking water samples after receiving the letter from Latvia. The letter came too late, however, as it was already impossible to detect traces of any contamination. Who's to blame is still unknown.
Although the testing of water samples is still under way, the river in Latvia is thought to be clear from pollution, as no more dead fish were found flowing from Lithuania and lab tests did not show any contamination in the Musa.
Though these strange deaths remain a mystery, it points to the increased cooperation between the two Baltic neighbors and will hopefully strengthen communication and projects between the two Ministries of Environment.
Things are definitely looking up for green living in the Baltics. In Latvia, industrial production output, a source of concern for environmentalists, has been reduced by 5.4 percent since 2007.
Pharmaceutical companies, a large source of air pollution, have also taken it upon themselves to reduce emissions. Grindeks, the largest pharmaceutical company in the Baltics, is finishing the construction of a waste water purification plant to help prevent possible harm to the environment based on their waste. At an investment of 2.5 million lats, the project speaks volumes about just how far the Baltics have come from the grey smoggy Soviet factory era.
Estonia, arguably more technologically advanced than either Latvia or Lithuania, is greening up its image with a new sustainable city soon to be built beside Tallinn.
Schmidt Hammer Lassen architect's award winning "Ecobay" design is to be built over the next 15-20 years and will hold about 6,000 people on the Paljassaare peninsula. From geothermal heating and hydroelectric power, the city will be able to fully sustain itself in a completely eco-friendly way.
"We are convinced that we must find solutions to the challenges we have in our society 's both social and environmental challenges," said Morten Holm, partner in Schmidt Hammer and Lassen, the architects working on the design of the city.
The list of green actions gets longer everyday, from foreign influence to locals keeping waste down by buying locally. Most people think that the situation will only get better, but it might be slow going, however hopefully, the end result will show that being green isn't so hard after all.