Mountain Town News: Former Obama aide cites 3 reasons for climate optimism |

Mountain Town News: Former Obama aide cites 3 reasons for climate optimism

BOULDER, Colo. – President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy last week as he gave three reasons for optimism.

Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.

“I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.

The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the United States and other developed countries and China and other countries still developing economically. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.

But now, those same countries — China, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.

“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”

The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

In Deese’s telling, this shift came about at last partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.

Enter the smartphone, which became ubiquitous in China by about 2011-12. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of million of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.

A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.

To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.

He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”

But it’s not the best time for being a scientist.

“We are living in a period in which science and research and the utility of these enterprises are under threat,” he said.

Namesakes for Yellowstone had skeletons in their closets

JACKSON, Wyo. – Where will all the sanitizing of our place names end? Now comes at least one call for a mountain in Grand Teton National Park to be renamed, because of something unsavory in the life of its namesake: Samuel Woodring, the first superintendent of the park.

Woodring had an illustrious career disrupted by his quiet removal from his post at Grand Teton. He helped president Theodore Roosevelt hunt wolves in Texas and later guided presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. But those high-flying notes ended when Horace Albright, the even more renowned first director of the National Park Service, heard about Woodring’s indiscretion: He was reported to have fondled a babysitter.

Bob Righter came across this several decades ago while researching a book about the creation of Grand Teton National Park. He believes that not only was Albright right to dismiss the park superintendent, but it’s high time that the 11,591-foot peak be renamed.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reveals this in the wake of many other calls for renaming of geography in the Yellowstone area. Among them was a recent protest by representatives of a half-dozen tribes at the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardner, Montana. One of their calls is to rename Hayden Valley — named after Henry Vandeveer Hayden, the leader of several expeditions to survey Wyoming, Colorado and other regions — as Buffalo Nations Valley.

Another source of objection is Doane Peak, named after Gustavus Cheyney Doane, an expedition leader in 1870 who took part in killing 173 noncombatant Indians in Montana. The tribes want the mountain renamed First People’s Mountain.

The News&Guide further directs attention to a new publication,, which recently carried an article objecting to the name Gibbon, found in a river and a valley in Yellowstone. The name comes from U.S. Army Col. John Gibbon, who led a charge in Montana’s Big Hole in which 90 mostly noncombatant Nez Perce tribesmen, including women, were killed.

Banff talks about value of car-sharing service

BANFF, Alberta – Banff has started talking about how a car-sharing service could benefit that community’s transportation needs.

Car-share programs allow people to rent cars briefly. They can be offered by businesses and public bodies, such as local governments. Car-share members in Canada grew from 100,000 in 2012 to 340,000 last year. The Rocky Mountain Outlook says the success is due to the lower cost as compared to conventional car ownership. And, because the cars are a supplement to public transportation, they are viewed as environmentally beneficial.

The study proposed for Banff would examine car-sharing and ride-sharing in North America, especially in Canada. The town would hire a consultant. However, no money has been allocated.

Natural gas an option for Jackson Hole drivers

JACKSON, Wyo. – Drivers in Jackson Hole have a new fuel option: natural gas.

The valley is located just north of one of the continent’s major natural gas drilling areas, the Jonah Field. Still, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was skeptical when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed making better use of natural gas for automotive fuels. He’s now persuaded, and Wyoming has eight such fueling stations.

Natural gas has two big advantages over petroleum. First, it’s cheaper, as it’s stayed at about a $2 per gallon equivalent for many years. Second, it produces less carbon dioxide, just 357 grams per mile, compared to 387 grams for newer diesel-burning engines and 446 grams for gasoline. These statistics come from the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities Coalition.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports commitments by a number of fleet operators in the valley to acquire bio-fuel vehicles.

Grizzly sow killed by a trophy hunter in B.C.

BANFF, Alberta. – The sow grizzly known as Bear 148 that had been transplanted from a gateway community at Banff National Park has been killed by a trophy hunter in British Columbia.

The 6-year-old grizzly had been relocated from Canmore after several brushes with people. It had not hurt anybody, but had bluff-charged several people as it fed on buffalo berries.

The bear was turned loose in the Kakwa Wildlife Provincial Park, about 310 miles to the north of Banff. Even then, there were worries whether the bear would survive. Many bears try to return to their former turf. But British Columbia, until November this year, still allows trophy hunting of grizzlies.

Reg Bunyan of the Bow Valley naturalists said the death of the bear wasn’t a total surprise. “We’re talking about a habituated bear, which to a large extent didn’t have a natural fear of people and with no exposure to hunting,” Bunyan told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The Outlook in recent months has revisited this story often as Canmore officials have talked about what is needed to give bears safe space so that they won’t come into contact with recreating humans.

“It’s easy for Bow Valley residents and visitors to say that they are willing to live in close proximity to bears, but if so, words have to match our actions. That means living with a certain element of risk and giving bears the space they need,” he told the Outlook.

“Habitat loss through development and recreational pressures will continue to weigh heavily on the viability of our local population.“

Vail Resorts commited to carrying on at Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler Blackcomb, purchased by Vail Resorts last year for $1.4 billion, is unlike other acquisitions by the 800-pound gorilla of the ski industry in this fundamental way: It must consult with the natives on its big projects.

One of those big projects is the Renaissance, the $345 million investment planned by prior owners to radically transform the resort’s on and off-mountain offerings. Included, in addition to a new lift, are an adventure center and waterpark.

Pete Sonntag, who is now running the show at Whistler Blackcomb for Vail Resorts says Vail plans to see Renaissance through. “We’re doing this,” he said.

But that will include bringing in stakeholders, not only the local municipality, but also the local Squamish and Lil’Wat nations. They, along with the local and provincial governments, must sign off on the plans.

Natives, if not First Nations, have also been apprehensive of late about too much business — what is now being called “overtourism.”

Sonntag said that Vail is “really sensitive to this issue of overcrowding. It’s not smart for us to just grow volume at this point. That’s probably not the way for us to grow our business, at least in the short term until we figure out solutions to some of these problems.”

He predicted that the multi-resort Epic Pass will help “smooth out visitation a bit” by encouraging longer stages in the resort and driving midweek visitation.

Will new alley bowl ’em over in Telluride?

TELLURDE, Colo. – It’s about time that Telluride got its own bowling alley. So says Steve Hillbert, who is involved in real-estate sales and development.

“In the 34 years that I’ve been in Telluride, I’ve heard a constant refrain that we need a bowling alley,” he told the Telluride Daily Planet. He noted several bowling alleys have opened in Colorado mountain towns in recent years, including Snowmass Village and in Vail. One potential name: Revelation Bowl, which also happens to be the name of a popular ski area at Telluride.

What are the rights of homeless people?

DURANGO, Colo. – What do you call people who hang around street corners, asking the 21st century equivalent of, “Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?”

A newsletter issued by the Durango Business Improvement District called them “characters,” and called on merchants to make it difficult for them to “do their business downtown.”

The Durango Herald reports that homeless-prevention advocates thought the vernacular phrases were a little cold, crude and unprofessional.

“These are human beings. It’s somebody’s mom, dad, brother, sister, daughter, son, uncle. These are people, not ‘characters,’” said Rachel Bauske, executive director of the Durango Community Shelter.

Tim Walsworth, executive director of the business improvement district, conceded that there are various reasons people may be on the street, asking for help. But what’s not OK is when people yell at passersby, block sidewalks, smoke within 5 feet of doorways and are publicly intoxicated.

Spruce beetles munching northward in Colorado

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Spruce beetles have been on the march in the more southerly parts of Colorado. Large swaths of forests at Wolf Creek Pass, just north of the New Mexico border, have died in recent years. Now, death of aging Englemann spruce in Monarch Pass and Gunnison is being noted.

Sam Pankratz, assistance district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, said the bugs that dine on spruce have been so pervasive in the Taylor Park area along the Continental Divide that they are now also attacking lodgepole pine trees there.

“There are so many beetles that they’re infecting off-species trees that they can’t even reproduce in,” he said. The reverse was true about a decade ago when bark beetles that specialize on lodgepole pine were so abundant that they were attacking spruce trees in northern Colorado.

On the other hand, aspen trees have been doing better. Following the drought of 2002 and successive years, aspen trees, began dying in Colorado. But Pankratz told the Crested Butte News that aspen are now generating and not much die-off has been observed in the last six or seven years.

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