Mountain Town News: Bill Gates puts money into C02 experiment |

Mountain Town News: Bill Gates puts money into C02 experiment

A stellar jay heads in for a closer look at a bird feeder in Breckenridge on Nov. 6.
Jenise Jensen / special to the daily |

SQUAMISH, B.C. – Bill Gates has allocated at least a small portion of his enormous fortune to an experiment in British Columbia that seeks to draw carbon dioxide out of the air.

The $9 million project at Squamish, located 60 kilometers (35 miles) downvalley from Whistler, should probably be seen as a long shot at solving what many believe is humanity’s most pressing problem: How do we avoid dangerously destabilizing the climate.

Carbon dioxide has been accumulating in the atmosphere at a worrisome rate, creating what amounts to a new layer of glass over the Earth, preventing heat from radiating back into space. The effect is like a greenhouse. At this point, the oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the heat, say climate scientists, but with no guarantees it will stay there. Already, northern latitudes have been warming at an alarming rate.

In an interview with Atlantic Magazine, Gates said he believes that wealthy nations like China and the United States, the most prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases, must cease adding carbon to the skies by 2050.

But can we draw carbon from the atmosphere that has already been emitted? The project at Squamish undertaken by a company called Carbon Engineering seeks to capture about a ton of C02 from the air per day.

That’s not much, and the C02 will be released into the atmosphere anyway. So what’s the point? Geoff Holmes, business development manager for the Calgary-based company, tells Whistler’s Pique that engineering and performance data are being gathered. The goal is to scale this technology, so that millions of tons of C02 can be captured daily and converted into useful products.

For a 2013 article in the New York Times about the project, a research scientist at the University of Southern California said that cost of capturing C02 from the air has yet to be demonstrated. Estimates have ranged from $20 a ton to as much as $2,000 a ton, said Alain Goeppert. “We won’t know for sure until someone builds a pilot plant.”

The Times noted that an average passenger vehicle generates about five tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The technology was born at the University of Calgary, in the laboratories of Professor David Keith, who now teaches at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He is executive chairman of Carbon Engineering.

Also among the funders is Murray Edwards, a part owner of the Calgary Flames, a National Hockey League franchise.

Park City debates its energy goals for 2050

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City’s elected municipal officials recently reviewed three broad scenarios in looking at 2050 to reduce greenhouse gases from the community. City staffers said that the most ambitious goals might be difficult to achieve and expensive, but several councilors said they wanted to pursue an aggressive plan, reports The Park Record.

Strong U.S. dollar a mixed bag for Vail

AVON, Colo. – A strong U.S. dollar means exactly what for tourism this winter at Vail and Beaver Creek? The answer, the Vail Daily learned, is that it depends.

Kelly Ladyga, speaking for Vail Resorts, told the newspaper that the higher-spending customers targeted by the company “tend to be more insulated from fluctuations in currency exchange rates.”

But yes, there has been “sluggishness” in reservations from Canada and Great Britain. The U.S. dollar has been particularly strong against their currencies.

On the other hand, Vail Resorts expects those declines to be more than offset by gains from Mexico, Australia, and the domestic U.S. market.

Ralf Garrison, the principal owner of Destimetrics, a research and consulting firm, told the newspaper that Vail, Aspen, and other high-end resorts “tend to fly above the storm clouds” of currency fluctuations.

Chinese visitors to Jackson Hole surge

JACKSON, Wyo. – It sounds like there will be a premium for tourism workers in Jackson Hole who know a little Mandarin Chinese. An estimated 300,000 Chinese passed through Jackson last year, and by one, unverified estimate, this year the total grew to 500,000. The valley altogether has 4 to 5 million annual visitors.

The News&Guide talked with downtown merchants in Jackson who testified to the uptick in Chinese visitors drawn to see two of America’s iconic national parks, Teton and Yellowstone. Nearly every group had at least one English-speaker, but there are customs to learn.

“You don’t put them on the garden floor,” said Heather Falk, director of sales and marketing at the Lexington Hotel and Suites. “The guide and drivers go down below the paying guests, and you need extra hot water in the lobby and at breakfast.”

A gallery operator in Jackson said Chinese tourists accounted for up to a quarter of his summer sales this year.

A restaurant owner, a former Marine who had served in Asia, said he has the menus for his six restaurants translated into Mandarin. “It makes them feel welcome,” said Joe Rice. “To see something familiar, that makes them feel like, ‘they want us to be here.’”

Unlike American visitors, who tend to hug the peak seasons because of school schedules, the Chinese have filled in the shoulder season of fall.

And what’s next? Boosters of Chinese tourism who work out of Jackson Hole point to a potential for winter tourism.

Real estate agent Bruce Simon, who has spent a lot of time in China, points out that the number of skiers in China has exploded from perhaps 10,000 a decade ago to 10 million. And, the News&Guide points out, China has won the 2022 Winter Olympics bid.

“California is seeing them,” Simon said of Chinese skiers. He also said some larger Rocky Mountain resorts have begun advertising in rental shops in China.

Being gay, as a ski racer and as a mayor

TELLURIDE, Colo. – In late October, Olympic freestyle skiing medalist Gus Kenworthy announced, both on his Facebook page and in a major story in ESPN: The Magazine, that he is gay.

Last week, in Telluride, where Kenworthy grew up, townspeople elected a new mayor, Sean Murphy, a gallery owner. Murphy is also gay and proudly proclaimed so in a speech on the town’s main street after learning that he had won. In the speech, he lauded Kenworthy’s announcement before making remarks about the meaning of his own victory.

“The torch has been passed to a new generation” said Murphy, a former lawyer in New York City. “It’s a generation that cares less about skin color and sexual orientation than it does about what talents each of us brings to the table and how everyone can collaborate to solve problems.” The speech was excerpted by the Telluride Daily Planet.

But does the younger generation actually care less about sexual orientation? For all its emphasis on being alternative, the action sports world doesn’t reward nonconformity, the ESPN article says. Kenworthy was anguished even as he became an international skiing star, because of the pressures to make him something different than who he was.

“In skiing, there’s such an alpha male thing about pulling the hottest chicks,” Kenworthy told ESPN. “I know hooking up with hot girls doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. But I literally would sleep with a girl and then cry about it afterward. I’m like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

A bear-eat-bear world in Canada

BANFF, Alberta – It’s a gristly, grizzly-eat-grizzly world. Officials in Banff National Park say they have firm evidence that a large grizzly male ate a smaller male grizzly bear. They think, but don’t know for sure, that the larger bear also killed the smaller bear.

They could confirm the identity of the smaller bear because of the skull found at the site. The smaller bear had a distinctive dental pattern. It had been radio-collared for a study in Banff, as had the larger bear.

The larger bear weighs 225 kilograms and the smaller bear 90 kilograms (500 pounds vs. 200 pounds).

“We know that large grizzly bears will certainly take advantage of any food source they can, including young grizzly bears, older grizzly bears, black bears and the more typical ungulate prey species,” said Steve Michel, of Parks Canada.

About a decade ago, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook, a large male grizzly killed a couple of female grizzly bears in the Lake Louise area.

Ski area sold for less than price of a house

FAIRFIELD, Idaho – Want to buy a ski area? Check Facebook.

That, at least, is how Matt and Diane McFerran, a couple from Bend, Oregon, came to own the Soldier Mountain Ski Area, which is located 65 miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Owned by the actor Bruce Willis from 1996 to 2012, Soldier Mountain has two chairlifts and 1,400 vertical feet. It serves mostly local farm families.

The McFerrans, who are in their late ‘30s, tell the Bend Bulletin that owning a ski area was a retirement dream, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.

Willis donated the ski area to a nonprofit founded to manage the property. After trying a more conventional approach, using a real estate broker, the foundation used Facebook. Within three days, more than 2,000 inquiries had been made.

Dr. Jim Johnston, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Boise who heads the nonprofit’s board of directors, told the Bulletin that the ski area won’t make anybody rich, but it can make a little profit.

Aspen’s plastic bag policy upheld legally

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s policy to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags has survived a legal challenge. The bag-fee law, passed by the Aspen City Council in 2011, applied to just the two grocery stores in Aspen. Shoppers are assessed 20 cents per paper bag, and plastic bags cannot be dispensed.

Aspen calls it a fee, and the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed. Grocery stores get to keep up to $100 monthly from the fees.

“The primary purpose of the ordinance is to reduce waste,” the Court of Appeals ruling said. “The top priority for the use of the funds collected from the waste reduction fee is to provide usable bags to both residents and visitors…”

Firefighters now have a place at table in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – Firefighters in Jackson Hole have unionized. The News&Guide reports that the vote was 14 to 3, and an attorney for Teton County says the upshot of this move is to give the firefighters a seat at the table in the future.

Because Wyoming is a right-to-work state, there’s no real benefit to collective bargaining, a police officer in the town of Jackson tells the newspaper.

Firefighters, if they have an issue they wish to address, must let Teton County commissioners know 125 days before the budget is approved. The two sides have 10 days to reach agreement. If they cannot do so, the matter goes to arbitration.

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