Mountain Town News: What we need to stave off the next recurring ice age (column)
November 19, 2016
Aside from all the election hot air, it's been another hot year for the planet. Through August, it was the warmest ever for the globe since record-keeping began in 1880, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As of October, carbon dioxide levels in the troposphere were 401 parts per million on the Hawaiian mountain of Mauna Loa, up 3 ppm from the same month last year — and up from 280 ppm when industrialization began.
Climate scientists say we're likely to encounter real trouble when concentrations hit 450, if not before. At our current rate of emissions, we'll reach that point of screeching sirens by 2040.
Incredibly, almost nothing was said about this during the presidential campaigns. Donald Trump dismissed global warming as a Chinese hoax. Hillary Clinton addressed it in her policy proposals but, upon reviewing polling data, according to emails uncovered by Wikileaks, she refused to embrace the one policy that economists and most activists agree is vitally needed: a price on carbon emissions. Pollution cannot occur without a cost.
British Columbia already has a price of $30 per metric ton of emissions, which may be too little to effect change. Alberta has an even smaller one.
Washington state voters last week rejected such a carbon tax. Opposition came from unexpected sources. Many green activists, including those from minority and environmental justice organizations argued that impacts of the tax would fall disproportionately on those of low income, which tend to be racial minorities.
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Van Jones, an African-American green activist, Princeton professor, and CNN commentator, opposed the proposed carbon tax. "I have never opposed a single climate bill proposal, but I am opposing this one, because it is that bad," he said on a telephone press conference before the election. "It is just that bad."
The Washington state case may provide a sneak preview of the challenge Citizens' Climate Lobby faces in its work to create a coalition in support of a national carbon tax.
This past week, after the election, the group had a webinar featuring Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent climate scientist. Originally from Canada, she now works at Texas Tech.
In the webinar, Hayhoe was hopeful, despite the election. She pointed to her work with cities, where 70 percent of the world's people live. Many cities are now working hard to adopt policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. States, too, are taking action. And even in China, India and parts of Africa, there is surprising progress, she said.
Largely missing is federal action in the United States.
"We don't need any more new studies to tell us what we need to know, which is that we need a price on carbon and we need the Paris agreement to succeed," she said.
Without the intervention of humans, the Earth's surface temperature would be slowly declining into another ice age, as has happened periodically for the last two million years. The energy from the sun hitting the earth has actually declined in the last four years, despite the increasing temperatures.
"If it weren't for the human blanket of greenhouse gases that we're wrapping around the globe, our planet would be slowly cooling," she said. The warming now being measured is, she said, 100 percent human caused.
We might need the fossil fuels some day, she said, to stave off the next ice age.
But we don't need the carbon dioxide now. It's rapidly pushing us in the wrong direction.
What new presidency means for ski towns
Clinton-favoring mountain valleys last week were asking what the Trump presidency means for everything from public lands to Obamacare to immigration.
As has been their predilection, resort mountain valleys in Colorado tilted hard toward Democrats. Nearly 70 percent of voters in Pitkin and San Miguel (Aspen and Telluride) counties voted for Hillary Clinton. That's just a tad less than in Colorado's most liberal county, Boulder.
Several of the counties — including those where Breckenridge, Vail, Crested Butte, and Steamboat are located — delivered between 50 and 60 percent of votes to Clinton. Only a few —Grand (Winter Park) and Chaffee (Monarch) — gave a plurality of votes to Donald Trump.
If there was any real departure from usual, it was the fairly strong showing of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who snagged 6.1 percent in Summit County and 5.9 percent in La Plata (Durango) County.
Now that he can call in his kids and rent a U-Haul for the move south to D.C., what will Trump do?
In an interview with the Telluride Daily Planet, Dan Jansen, the mayor of Mountain Village, suggested Trump has a greater challenge than the road to the White House "I found that campaigning is easy, but it's governing that's more challenging," he said. Mountain Village is the slope-side municipality at Telluride.
Elsewhere in mountain valleys, there were tears born of anxiety.
"I think it's scary right now, and I'm worried about kids as young as third grade coming to school crying about whether or not their friends are going to be deported," Silverthorne resident Karin Mitchell told the Summit Daily News.
West on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs, there were tears as well at the Literacy Outreach office. The nonprofit works with a wide swath of the Latino community in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen Daily News explained.
"They're terrified," said Martha Fredendall in reporting children who didn't want to go to school. "Even those who are here legally are nervous."
Chis Pooley, who practices immigration law in Glenwood Springs and the Vail Valley, predicted that Trump's actions won't match his rhetoric. "Building a wall and deporting everybody, when the rubber meets the road, he's not going to be able to do that," Pooley said. "Time will tell what he's going to do."
Another issue is marijuana. Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana, and now, so has California. The Obama administration had signaled this would be acceptable, despite federal laws. What about the Trump administration?
Mason Tvert, of the Marijuana Policy Project and a key figure in Colorado's legalization beginning in 2014 isn't too concerned about a potential federal crackdown after the Trump takeover.
"Are they really going to roll back a bunch of voter-approved laws and get rid of thousands and thousands of jobs and give (the industry) back to Mexican drug cartels?" he told the Aspen newspaper. "That doesn't seem to jibe with what he's been talking about."
But others in Aspen worry that Trump will appoint Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and part of the failed war on drugs, as U.S. attorney general.
Then there's Obamacare. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to destroy it. While Republicans now control both houses of Congress, seeming to give them a hat trick of power, it's never quite that easy. Democrats, in 2008, had control of all three bodies—but couldn't get cap-and-trade over the finish line and delivered a compromised Obamacare only after tortured debate.
In some of the ski valleys of Colorado's Western Slope, insurance rates have continued to jump skyward. The Daily News cites the example of one 27-year-old male who had a jump of 35 percent in health insurance premiums from last year.
The average monthly premiums for the resort regions of the Western Slope are nearly double those for the same plan in the Denver area. The Daily News fingers the disproportionate costs to less competition both among insurers and health care providers.
Those who pay the individual rates might be glad to see a return to the pre-Obamacare status quo, says the Daily News. However, those residents earning less than about $47,000 per year or those with pre-existing conditions have a lot to lose.
Insurance costs of those making less than $47,000 a year are subsidized under Obamacare.
One local insurance broker, Michael Sailor, told the Daily News that he doesn't expect immediate drastic changes in the law, called the Affordable Health Care Act. "My guess is that 2017 will be status quo for subsidies," he said.
Will Donald Trump support transfer of federal lands?
KETCHUM, Idaho – Ski towns and public lands come cheek and jowl. In Blaine County, where Sun Valley Resort is located, 78 percent of lands are federal lands, mostly U.S. Forest Service.
Will the Trump presidency mean that the move by Republicans to transfer lands to state governments prevails?
The Idaho Mountain Express points out that the issue got little attention during the presidential campaigns. In fact, among Republican candidates, Trump was the most protective of public lands, John Robison, public lands director for the Idaho Conservation League, told the newspaper.
Judith Kohler, public lands communications manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said her organization is optimistic about Trump's backing of continued federal landownership.
But in the Aspen area, the Trump presidency might open the door more to oil and gas drilling on public lands. Locals have raised a fuss about leases on public lands called Thompson Divide, located about 30 miles west of Aspen, near the town of Carbondale. Thompson Divide, they argue, is just too wonderful to be tarnished by drilling operations. Many expect the federal agency responsible for administration to cancel existing leases before Trump takes office in January.
But David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told the Daily News that he expects a Trump presidency to "broaden our options" for fighting back against the cancellations of leases.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, we have the acquittal of Ammon Bundy and others. They had forcefully occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year. Their acquittal has, according to the Idaho Mountain Express, been seen by some as validation of their claims that federal land ownership is illegal.
"The jury did nothing of the sort," says the Express. The verdict in this case only proves that prosecutors failed to provide compelling evidence of the specific charge of conspiracy.
"The danger of this verdict is the overreach it could generate in the fringe movement," the newspaper says.
Why don't the techies move to Lake Tahoe?
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The economy of the Lake Tahoe Basin is almost entirely that of tourism: skiing in winter, gambling on the Nevada side of the border at South Lake Tahoe, and then summer.
But might the local economy be better if there were more Silicon Valley types? That was the question examined at a recent forum covered by the Lake Tahoe News.
"This is an affordable place relative to a lot of other tech places," said Chris McNamara, owner of Outdoor Gear Lab in South Lake Tahoe.
Life in the Bay Area consists of many people with long commutes. In Tahoe, according to his alternative vision, people could continue their careers while enjoying bike rides and hikes instead of commutes.
In this vision, the tech workers could also help build the local community.
Whether the Tahoe-Truckee area has the housing to accommodate non-tourism workers in this alternative vision is less clear.
Should farmers markets be open to just farmers?
ASPEN, Colo. – Brick-and-mortar merchants in downtown Aspen have been wary of interlopers who don't have to pay rent.
A few months back, the issue was the trunk merchants who arrive at Christmas and other high-volume times and rent hotel rooms where they can show their high-end wares.
Now, there's discussion about whether there should be more food, and a little less of clothing, crafts and jewelry at the local farmers market that occupies three blocks of a downtown street from June through October.
A survey conducted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association found that 88 percent of respondents agreed that the market constitutes a "good use of public space."
But many want to see altered criteria for choosing vendors.
"They think there are too many craft/jewelry vendors, and feel that political and real estate booths do not fit in a farmers' market," the memo given to the Aspen City Council says.
Bottom lines in Banff hurt by labor shortages
BANFF, Alberta – Too much business — or not enough? Banff town officials fret about their inability to handle crowds caused by the free admission to Banff National Park next year.
But Banff's tourism industry worries about not having enough employees to handle all the business they could be doing, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
A recent economic impact study in neighboring British Columbia concluded that the tourism industry failed to realize about $1 billion in revenue in 2013-2014 because of labor shortages.
Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association would like a similar study. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that the tourism leaders in Banff are confident the results will show economic losses. Local businesses needed between 217 and 328 additional employees per month.
While trying to recruit Canadians for tourism jobs at Banff and Lake Louise, the officials are also asking for federal changes that would allow more temporary foreign workers.
Ice house not pretty, but it's part of history
BANFF, Alberta – Canadian Pacific Railway wants to demolish a small shed along its tracks in Banff that was erected in 1910. It was used as an ice house. But Banff town officials are pushing back.
"It's not a pretty building, but it has a lot of significance," said Jennifer Laforest, Banff's heritage planner. It was one of the earliest industrial buildings in Banff and is also thought to be one of the few remaining ice houses in Western Canada, she told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
Ice houses stored ice cut and stacked during winter for use in refrigerator railroad cars during summer.
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