Mountain Town News: Colorado, Canada towns share common interest in carbon-based energy
April 11, 2015
Canmore, Alberta, and Carbondale, Colorado, both have glue-your-eyes-open mountain backdrops. Both are former coal-mining towns. And each lies in the shadow of more famous neighbors, Banff and Aspen.
One more way these two distant mountain towns are alike is having a common interest in carbon-based energy.
In February, the Carbondale Board of Trustees adopted a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to "pass legislation that levies an annually increasing revenue-neutral fee" on carbon in fossil fuels.
The minutes for the meeting reflect no discussion, but a group called the Citizens Climate Lobby, an international group with a chapter in Carbondale, sent out an e-mail hailing the adoption of the resolution along with a gleeful note that President Barack Obama the same day had vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline.
The pipeline would originate in Canada, sending diluted bitumen — a low-quality stock for oil — from northern Alberta to refineries between New Orleans and Houston. It's nearly a 10-hour drive from Canmore to Fort McMurray, the center of the Athabaskan tar sands, but Canmore's economy depends greatly upon fortunes of the oil companies. Most of them are headquartered in gleaming, tall buildings in Calgary, located an hour east of Canmore.
Now, with the glut of oil from booming oil fields in the United States, Calgary has been hurting. This might dent the appetite for resort real estate in Canmore, the cheap petroleum is fueling more automobile tourism to Banff National park.
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But what will future automobile tourists see? A study by two researchers from British Columbia published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that glaciers in the Rocky Mountains of Canada will be all but wiped out during the 21st century.
The researchers, Garry Clarke and Brian Menounos, spent a decade in assembling their high-resolution representations of glacial degradation in Alberta and British Columbia, Clarke told the Vancouver Sun.
By 2100, said Clarke, the Rocky Mountains are likely to lose more than 90 percent of the ice that was present in 2005. "People driving into Banff or Jasper parks will be hard-pressed to see glaciers in the landscape by the time this is played out," said Clarke, a professor emeritus of earth and ocean sciences at the University of B.C.
Meanwhile, Canada is alive with talk about levying a carbon fee. British Columbia has had a fee since 2008, returning proceeds to residents in the form of a dividend. The B.C. economy survived the recession with relative ease.
Another province, Ontario, is now preparing a cap-and-trade program linked to existing programs in Quebec and California. Unlike a carbon fee, which is applied at source of production, the government caps the amount of carbon that can be burned and raises money by auctioning permits to companies that plan to create greenhouse gas emissions.
Alberta also has a carbon tax, although it's small and targets only large industrial polluters, such as coal-fired power plants and tar-sands processors. Proceeds are used to research carbon capture and storage technoogy.
The Globe and Mail, Canada's leading newspaper, points out that the ruling Conservatives have treated climate change gingerly, but polls show strong support for more vigorous policies.
Economist who make up Canada's Ecofiscal commission say provincial action, and not federal policy, is the "most practical way to move forward to achievng meaningful, low-cost reductions" in emissions.
But the economists say Canada needs to move forward quickly to adopt new carbon policies in order to meet existing national and provincial greenhouse gas reductions. The backdrop is the international climate summit to be held in Paris during December.
Should Canada altogether adopt a carbon fee? The Liberal Party's Justin Trudeau proposed such a fee when in Calgary recently. That provoked a sharp response from Greg Rickford, the natural resources minister in the government of Premier Stephen Harper. "It would set hard-working Canadian families back and derail Canadians' economies," Rickford said.
South of the 45th parallel, you can hear much the same rhetoric in the United States, and there will probably be more as the talks in Paris approach.
THEY GOT CLOSE TO THE
EDGE — AND SURVIVED!
BANFF, Alberta — Two skiers in Banff National Park probably didn't listen to their mothers very well when they said, "Stay away from the edge."
In the two separate incidents, the skiers fell off the sides of mountains when cornices – the overhanging snow and ice on a mountain ridge – gave way under their feet.
Grant Statham, visitor safety officer for the national park, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook it was "just amazing" that both survived.
One man, in his mid-30s, walked away with bruises and scratches after he fell 300 to 500 feet. The cornice collapsed and the man fell onto a 50-degree slope of snow and rocks. He lost all equipment save for one ski, which he used to brake himself. He had been in a party of 10 people skiing in whiteout conditions.
The other victim fared worse, suffering a broken leg and back injuries, after tumbling nearly 1,600 feet through steep, rocky areas. This was in the off-piste area at the Sunshine ski area. He had taken a peek over the edge — the nearly fatal mistake.
WANDERING ONTO THIN
ICE UNDOES 50 ELK
ALPINE, Wyo. — In late March, as many as 50 elk wandered onto the thin ice of Palisade Reservoir, which straddles the Idaho-Wyoming border, holding back the Snake River. Then the ice gave away. All apparently died.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide described it as an "unusual but natural occurrence," and pointed to something similar in late December in Colorado. In that case, about 20 died after falling through the ice in Echo Canyon Reservoir near Pagosa Springs.
A local resident, John Stephenson, told the News&Guide that as a hunter he found it kind of a waste. "I'd like to see those on dinner plates rather than thrown out in the river."
In addition to falling through ice, elk sometimes die en masse from other causes. In 2004, 300 were poisoned after eating toxic lichen in the Red Rim area of south-central Wyoming and fell dead.
In Colorado, 56 elk were killed by lightning in 1999 about four miles from the summit of Mount Evans, southwest of Denver. What was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife also reported various other incidents of bighorn sheep and elk being killed by lightning when above treeline in Colorado. In addition, 53 caribou had been electrocuted by lightning in Alaska in 1972.
NOT INFO GRAVEL ROAD
ASPEN — Residents in rural areas of Pitkin County want improved broadband capacity and at lower prices. The Aspen Daily News reported that elected officials hope to pursue a public-private partnership that will deliver the service.
Kevin Ward spoke on behalf of residents of Old Snowmass, an area located about 12 miles from Aspen. Having broadband in this century is not a 'good to have,' or a 'nice to have.' It is essential," he told county commissioners.
The current private service he described as a "disaster."
The operator of a camp that services the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities said that the service costs $600 a month for services with 3 megabytes of upload or download speed. In Denver, the cost is $30 for 30 MB speed.
County Commissioner Rachel Richards called rural broadband in western Colorado an "information dirt road" rather than a highway.
What seems to be at issue is a state law, SB-151, which was aimed at limiting government from competing with private enterprise. But critics say that the bill has stymied competition and slowed the expansion of service to more remote areas, while keeping prices high.
BEND LIMITS HOME
BEND, Ore. — Elected officials in Bend are limiting the proliferation of vacation rentals. They now require existing and new rentals to get permits, which must be renewed annually. New rentals can be no closer than 250 feet from existing home rentals.
The Bend Bulletin explains that the cluster of home rentals in residential areas arose because of complaints in several neighborhoods. Number of permits rose from 8 in 2006 to 89 now.
In Aspen, elected officials adopted a law that allows any property owner to put a home or condo into the rental pool. Since then, 273 permits have been issued.
What has changed? Representatives of two property management companies tell the Aspen Daily News that little has changed, except that the town is now collecting tax revenues on rentals. From 2012 through mid-2014, the city collected $95,401 through the vacation home rental program.
LIVING OFF THE GRID HARD,
AND NOT FOR EVERYONE
WHISTLER, B.C. — Living off the grid? Sounds slightly romantic, but a set of authors who do, warn that it's a lot of work and, in the end, isn't the way everybody should live.
"Off-grid living can teach volumes about ethical and responsible consumption, resource conservation, sustainability, resilience and adaptation," write Phillip Vannini and Jonathan Taggart, who wrote the book and have a forthcoming documentary called — what else — "Life off the Grid."
"Yet it is not the answer to global energy scarcity," they add.
"It makes little sense, from a planning and engineering perspective, to isolate ourselves into small, separate, fully independent atom-like homes. It makes more sense to pool and share resources whenever possible, and to all play a fair role in doing so…. Our energy futures won't be characterized by a simple, magic solution but rather by many diverse renewable resource technologies sensitive to local conditions and responsive to changing needs and intelligent, responsible demand."
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
BANFF, Alberta — Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect, designed a recreation pavilion in Banff in 1911. Tourism was booming in Banff, and the federal government wanted to showcase Canada's first national park to the upper class. Wright had a name with cachet.
But the building didn't last. It had flooding problems, and in 1938, the pavilion was demolished.
Now, the recreation grounds along the Bow River are being developed, but town officials have no plans to recreate Wright's building, Randall McKay, the town's planning and development manager, said the site will be marked and the story told in documentary fashion. But there will be no attempt to recreate the building.
There are practical considerations, such as limited space, but McKay says there's something more. "I also have serious trepidations with reconstructed and replica buildings and view them as a falsification of history," he said.
BABY BOOMER MOTEL
IN JACKSON TO TUMBLE
JACKSON, Wyo. — If it hasn't already, the Western Motel will soon be demolished, and with it a relic of Jackson Hole's post-World War II boom in automobile tourism.
The motel was built in 1954, but at some point in recent years became an "overflow" motel, taking customers when other, presumably more modern, lodges were filled. Then, beginning in 2007, it became employee housing.
Lately, the property was sold to companies from Utah and Oregon, who intend to build a 121-room Marriott-branded hotel.
VAIL RESORTS TO MANAGE
HOTEL IN PARK CITY
PARK CITY, Utah — Vail Resorts has signed a management agreement to operate a hotel in Park City. The Yarrow is to be rebranded under the Doubletree by Hilton label.
"Our strategy around lodging as a company is to own and operate hotels and property at or near the base of our ski resorts," James O'Donnell, senior vice president of lodging and real estate for Vail Resorts, told The Park Record. "And in the acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, there was not any lodging that came along with that. … The Yarrow presented a pretty great and unique opportunity for us."
THIN AIR AND DEPRESSION,
BUT BENEFITS TO KIDS, TOO
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Does the thin air of higher elevations help or hinder human health? Scientists at the University of Utah say yes: new studies suggest the reduced oxygen at high altitude works both ways.
In the first study, researchers found that reduced oxygen, called hypobaric hypoxic, can lead to depression. The results, published in the March edition of High Altitude Medicine and Biology, found that female rats exhibited higher levels of depression, as demonstrated in their persistence in swimming. That test has been documented as an indicator of good spirits.
The rats were in altitude chambers that simulated the air at sea level, 4,500 feet (the elevation of Salt Lake City), 10,000 feet (Breckenridge) and 20,000 feet.
The current study bolsters the argument that physiological changes triggered by low oxygen at higher altitudes can contribute to depression. What those changes are, and whether they also occur in people, will be the subject of future studies.
But scientists in previous studies have also found evidence that altitude is an independent risk factor for suicide. In 2012, the eight states that comprise the Intermountain West — Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico — had suicide rates exceeding 18 per 100,000 people, compared with the national average of 12.5 per 100,000, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The high rate of self-inflicted death in the Intermountain West has earned the region a gloomy moniker: the Suicide Belt, noted a press release issued by the University of Utah.
Perry F. Renshaw, professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah and senior author of this new study, said a potential cause for depression at altitude might be found in low levels of serotonin. A neurotransmitter, it is thought to contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness. Hypoxia impairs an enzyme involved in synthesis of serotonin, likely resulting in lower levels of serotonin, possibly leading to depression.
The studies involving animals imply that drugs such as Prozac may not work when brain serotonin levels are low.
"The fact that both depression and suicide rates increase with altitude implies that current antidepressant treatments are not adequate for those suffering from depression at altitude, leading to high levels of unresolved depression that can contribute to higher levels of suicide ideation and suicide attempts," said Shami Kanekar, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at the university and lead author of the study.
In the second study, researchers found that the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, decreases substantially as altitude increases. In Utah, for example, the rate of diagnosed ADHD cases is about 50 percent of states at sea level.
Why? One possible reason, University of Utah researchers believe, is that higher levels of dopamine are produced as a reaction to hypoxia.
Researchers say that all of the states in the intermountain West rated well below average for the percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD.
For more news, visit mountaintownnews.net.
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