What can we do to help?
SUMMIT COUNTY – Climate change may be the overriding threat facing human civilization in the 21st century, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan argues in his new book, “Boiling Point.”If that sounds like doomsday thinking, Gelbspan is at least playing with a full deck of facts. While scientists still question whether existing weather can be attributed to global warming, their research has left them few doubts that we have trouble ahead as the planet warms 2.5 to 10.4 degrees. So why don’t we do something about global warming?
We are, in many small but concrete ways, even locally. Pitkin County and Aspen, for example, have tightened their building codes and also imposed a surcharge on homes that are gluttonous in their energy consumption. Holy Cross Energy is among the first electrical cooperatives in the United States to embrace wind power. The city of Glenwood Springs quietly has invested in wind power. The town of Vail has been experimenting with a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, and Breckenridge is experimenting with biodiesel in its buses, just like the snow groomers at Arapahoe Basin. Ski areas have been busy retrofitting lighting fixtures to use compact fluorescent bulbs among other energy-saving strategies. In fact, per capita energy consumption in the United States has remained constant for the last 30 years, owing to improved efficiency. However, that’s like saying the out-of-control freight train is not picking up speed. The United States, with 4 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for 25 percent of the carbon emissions.
Like most other climate change activists, Randy Udall, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency, argues for smarter technology. Homes must earn their keep by such things as converting solar energy to practical uses. Not least, it’s imperative we invest now, instead of trying to retrofit later. For example, instead of building more coal-fired power plants, as is proposed for the Front Range and the Four Corners areas, we should invest the money into renewable power sources such as wind turbines, he says. Once a coal-fired plant is built, we’re stuck with it for at least 50 years.
Amory Lovins, who leads the Rocky Mountain Institute, based near Old Snowmass, became internationally famous in the early 1970s for figuring out that learning how to save energy is as good as building more power plants – and also cheaper and healthier. His message today continues to be much the same: Being more efficient not only reduces emissions, it also saves money and increases economic competitiveness. But can we have our cake and eat it too? In other words, can we continue our lifestyle – weekends in San Francisco, 5,000-square foot homes, SUVs as large as small homes – simply through improved engineering? “I’m not so sure that will be sustainable,” Udall says. “We weren’t living like this 50 years ago, and I’m not sure we will live like this 50 years from now.”
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