On global warming, world seeks "Viking leadership"

Tiny Danish island a global model for clean e... 04:38

SAMSO, Denmark-- It's an out-of-the-way place that takes some getting to, but the little Danish island of Samso -- a 20-mile-long squiggle of farms and tidy villages -- is providing answers to some of the biggest questions facing our warming world.

Samso's residents have already found ways to reduce their greenhouse gas output to effectively zero.

They haven't done it using magical new technology, they've used what they have readily available; power from the wind, power from the sun and power from crop waste.

On Samso, it's not just what they've done, it's how they've done it that has caught the world's attention.

Soren Hermansen has led the island's climb to new heights of clean energy sustainability, and you've got to go a long way up -- right to the top of a mammoth wind turbine -- to understand how it works.

The turbines weren't put up by some big conglomerate in search of government subsidies and profit. They were erected by local farmers and shareholders who saw that the island's economy could be improved -- and that they could cash in -- by investing in the environmental action.

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"We like the turbines better now because we own them!" proclaimed Hermansen, surveying the landscape from atop one of the giant machines. "We don't have the discussion about 'they are ugly on the landscape,' we don't have noise problems and the birds, for some reason, don't die around these turbines!"

Farmer Jorgen Tranberg was one of the first to do well out of doing good. Half his income now comes from the power he sells from his wind turbine, and from the solar cells which cover his barns.

"The wind turbine there will pay back two, three times," Tranberg told Phillips. "Therefore I will build a new house."

The good news for the fewer than 4,000 people who live on Samso goes back almost two decades to when they started this project. Then it seemed unlikely that a speck of an island off the cold north coast of Europe could keep itself warm and prosperous on renewable energy alone.

Living A Green Dream 03:03

But when Phillips first visited Samso nine years ago, he found the plan was already working. Despite the lack of fossil fuels, his morning shower was exactly what it was supposed to be -- hot.

Almost a decade later, it's still hot. But other things have changed around Samso. Once at the cutting edge of the response to climate change, Samso has now become a model for how it can be done.

Politicians and environmental scientists from across Europe, Asia and the U.S. now come to the Energy Academy on the island to study the Samso model.

And the islanders aren't done yet.

The ferry to get you to Samso currently runs on natural gas, but there are plans to convert it to run on the methane produced from the back end of the island's pig population.

"In Japan, they call it Viking leadership," laughs Hermansen, boasting of his tiny island's reputation in some of the world's most advanced societies.

And with their knowledge and experience spreading fast, it does appear to be a whole new kind of Viking invasion.