SUMMIT COUNTY - As millions of people take pause on Earth Day to consider the state of our environment, global warming looms large on the stage. Nobody claims the science is perfect. But staggering amounts of evidence suggest that temperatures will soar in the next few decades. If the script plays out, the results will include a tidal wave of environmental changes, along with cultural, social and economic displacements an at unprecedented scale.Some new reports suggest the Rocky Mountain region is heating up faster than than other parts of the world, and residents or the region are feeling the changes. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization recently showed that the regional heat wave has quantifiable costs, including lost hunting and fishing revenue attributed to climate-related factors like drought and beetle kills. It will also cost us millions to pay for proposed new water infrastructure, planned by governments to hedge against future droughts. Species extinctions, water shortages, aspen mortality; as the list grows, so does public awareness. Some local environmental leaders say the last couple of years have seen a major shift in public perception of the issue. Not only do people recognize the problem, they seem to understand how it could affect us.Think globally, act locally "We're already seeing it," said Christi Carello, a biologist who closely studies a rich patch of the Earth at Breckenridge's Cucumber Gulch wetlands. "Greenhouse gas emissions are the forefront of this," Carello said. A changing climate, with fewer and less intense cold snaps, has helped the beetles spread exponentially, she said."I think of Earth Day as a way to communicate to the general public, to really be aware of these issues," Carello continued. "We need to be mindful that our Earth is a living organism and we need to treat it that way," she said. In general, Carello said she senses a much heightened sensitivity to environmental issues. "Every day should be Earth Day, and in some ways it is," she said.Despite the massive scale of the challenges, local communities are responding along the classic Earth Day paradigm: "Think globally, act locally." Green building codes around the county will improve energy efficiency. Green-minded local energy experts are even planning a renewable energy farm, with wind power and electricity generated by sunlight. Local mine reclamation and wetland projects have reclaimed blemished lands, and local residents put their money where their mouth is, by supporting sales taxes to buy and protect undeveloped open space.Taking it to the policy level, the Frisco Town Council will discuss a greenhouse gas emission inventory at today's meeting, right on schedule for Earth Day.
"It's modeled after Aspen's Canary in a Coalmine initiative," town manager Michael Penny said of the Frisco emissions report. The baseline data will show if and how future actions can reduce the overall carbon footprint, Penny said.All the houses, cars, busses, restaurants and hotels in Frisco pumped about 128,700 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2006. planner Jocelyn Mills said. That's a whopping 18.6 tons per person, averaged between residents and second homeowners. It sounds like a lot, but by at least one measure, it's signficantly less than the national per capita average of 26.1 tons. Mills said.Nearby, Copper Mountain has done similar accounting, issuing a greenhouse gas emission tally as part of its annual environmental report. The data includes totals for electricity and natural gas use, covering resort-owned facilities, as well as fuel used by resort vehicles. Copper will continue to compile those figures year to year, using the same yardstick to measure progress in reducing emissions, said Jen Schenk, the resort's environmental program director.Volnteerism risingJust like Carello, Schenk said she feels like every day is Earth Day, occupied each day with environmental tasks. In fact she didn't even realize that she scheduled a review of grant-funded environmental projects to coincide with the date. Copper employees contribute a small part of their paycheck to a special fund and the money goes to support youth environmental programs.The timing of Copper's grant cycle may be a coincidence, but it underscores a vital part of the local Earth Day ethic. Volunteer stewardship has become a crucial ingredient in natural resource management. Forest Service rangers partner with citizens to fix trails, take down abandoned fences and patrol wilderness areas. Groups like the Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District are indispensable, providing resources the agency can't pay for.But it's far more than just a budget issue. Getting your hands dirty and earning sore arms by working in the forest or on a mountaintop builds an emotional investment in stewardship, said local wilderness activist Currie Craven. Carello is also looking for volunteers to expand the monitoring in Cucumber Gulch, including studies on the response of willows to trail-grooming, and a visitor experience survey, combined with a larger capacity study, Carello said."We're at an awareness stage, ready for the next step, which is action," Schenk said. "I see Earth Day as a chance for people to reflect on where we are," Schenk said. Taking action on an individual level isn't all that different from building a greener company. The main thing is to concentrate on one step at a time," Schenk said. "I think people get overwhelmed. I try to do two things a year," she said, explaining how a series of small individual steps can lead to large-scale change in the long run.'Running out of planet?'
Whether or not changing our ways one light bulb at a time will be enough to make a difference in the long run is still up for debate, according to local wilderness activist Currie Craven, who takes a long-term view of environmental issues."People are going to look back 100 years from now and say, 'They saw it coming. Why didnt they act.' They may decide that we've been almost criminally short-sighted," Craven said.Most of all, Craven said he hopes Earth Day serves as a reminder to people that environmental issues need to be addressed urgently and consistently, not just once a year. He credited local environmental stalwarts like Carly Wier, Karn Stiegelmeyer and Sandy Briggs with sustaining local environmental passions and ethics.But globally, the picture is one of unsustainable use of resources, Craven said. "Look at what's happening to fisheries, with oil, the food riots in Haiti," Craven said, tying those symptoms all to the common cause of reckless environmental behavior.Craven conjured to famous image of Earth as seen by orbiting astronauts, " a little blue island floating in space."It's a little frustrating that not more has been done. It's talked about, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves," Craven said, referring to a recent essay by Paul Krugman in the New York Times about the global resource crunch.Taking it from the global level to the national level, Craven said Americans need to be constantly aware that they are 20 percent off the world's population using 80 percent of the resources. Now, the other 80 percent are moving toward using resources at a similar rate.Locally, Craven said the county and towns must think about whether they are running out planet as they grapple with issues like capacity, water supply and wildlife habitat. 'More fires'
As director of the county open space program, Brian Lorch is doing all he can to ensure that we don't run out of planet locally. The department sets aside undeveloped land, and has also led the charge to reclaim damaged areas, resulting in a net gain of environmentally valuable lands.For Lorch, global warming is a thread that connects many other environmental issues, including the unsustainable use of resources, said county open space program director Brian Lorch. "That's the big one, Lorch said. "There are more fires everywhere. Whatever you think about it (global warming), it's something we should do everything we can do about," Lorch said.In trying to protect undeveloped open spaces, Lorch sees the direct connection between our use of resources and impact to natural resources. Almost every human action results in an irrevocable commitment of resources that trickles down to more pressure on the land, he said.Water-wise, Summit County may be ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing pollution and fisheries, Lorch said. "There are several drainages that are not what they could be, but we're working to address century-old problems," Lorch said. But the big question of whether there is enough water locally and regionally to sustain projected population growth still looms, Lorch added.No one knows the answer, but it's certainly a question worth thinking about on a day designated for environmental awareness.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.