Opinion | Paul Olson: Global warming, sustainability and changing our habits | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Paul Olson: Global warming, sustainability and changing our habits

I grew up in the 1960s and was brainwashed by the “Please, please don’t be a Litterbug” jingle, so I would never dream of tossing even a gum wrapper out the car window. This catchy tune sung by little Susan Spotless was part of the “Keep America Beautiful” television campaign. The campaign also featured the crying Native American who shamed us for our polluting ways. The ads were funded by giants of the packaging and beverage industries in a greenwashing effort to shift the focus away from these plastic-loving companies who were fighting laws requiring more reusable containers. Our throw-away culture is the result. Also of note, the teary “Native American” was an Italian-American named Espera Oscar de Corti.

The Summit County landfill is projected to have no more capacity by 2056 unless significant changes are made in how much we toss in the trash. Breckenridge and Frisco are in the process of implementing a pay-as-you-throw program in order to increase recycling and reduce the amount of landfill waste. If you recycle more and have less trash you will save money on trash pick-up and do some good for the environment and our community. Yes, it will be a challenge for rental companies and households to get used to a new program, but this is an important step. Please consider getting into the recycling routine now instead of waiting until the program is phased in. Hopefully the entire county will soon adopt pay-as-you-throw programs.

Too much plastic and other trash is just one piece of the sustainability puzzle that confronts us, with global warming being the most serious problem. Whether one ignores the warming Earth due to anti-science denial or just being too darn busy, we are shirking our duty to future generations to not make a personal and public effort to change our planet harming habits.

Congress just passed the Inflation Reduction Act which includes $389 billion in much-needed funding for addressing climate change by providing industry and individuals with incentives to use cleaner sources of energy. Though a very imperfect bill (concessions to oil companies and not likely to have much impact on inflation) the Inflation Reduction Act is projected to reduce U.S. carbon emissions in 2030 by 40% from 2005 levels. About 22% of the nation’s electricity is currently produced by renewables such as wind, solar and hydroelectric. The share supplied by renewables is projected to increase to 42% by 2050. The U.S. will be dependent on fossil fuels for many decades but wind and solar have become economical and necessary alternatives for reducing global warming.

The environmental focus of the Inflation Reduction Act sets an example for other nations of what can and must be done to reduce carbon emissions. Summit County is also taking a leadership role that will influence other Colorado communities. Breckenridge has had a Sustainability Plan since 2011 which is now being updated. Summit County Government is leading the local effort to reduce carbon emissions with the Summit Community Climate Action Plan.

Last summer California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked his state businesses and residents to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 15%. This motivated citizens to increase usage by 19% in the month of March 2022 compared to the previous year. The attitude was, “I better dump as much water as I can on my lettuce field or lawn before there are mandatory restrictions.” This is a good example of the tragedy of the commons where people tend to act in their own self interest instead of for the good of society with the resources we share such as the atmosphere and the Colorado River.

Breckenridge has had permanent restrictions on outdoor water use since 2014. The rules are reasonable, and no one’s lawn has died in the effort to decrease the town’s water usage. The town’s water restrictions are primarily beneficial to people downstream, but unlike short-sighted Californians, the town of Breckenridge recognizes the importance of taking a leadership role in the midst of a severe drought in the Southwest.

It can seem overwhelming to an individual to imagine having an impact on reducing global warming, but it is important to take action anyway, practicing more environmentally friendly habits and having faith that there are many millions of others taking action as well. My carbon footprint is far too big, but I can make a conscious decision today to drive less and turn down my thermostat. I can take the Bustang to Denver. The free Summit Stage is very handy. I can ride my bike to the post office and supermarket and get some exercise.

Loss of forests from drought, fires and insects is one more consequence of climate change, and Congress is finally seeing the importance of properly funding the U.S. Forest Service.      

In positive news, the Forest Service just announced that they plan to plant a billion trees in the next decade which will be a needed boost to recreation, controlling water runoff, and reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. I will be long gone before those billion trees reach maturity and the Summit County landfill reaches capacity, but I am glad to be witnessing all the small steps that are being made to have a more livable world for future generations.

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