Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Canary Initiative

Commentary by Dick Dorworth


Dick Dorworth

Aspen, Colo., has the deserved reputation of being in the forefront of most things that define the western America ski resort community, both positive and negative—ski hills with their myriad amenities; affordable housing; unaffordable real estate; cultural events and institutions; experimental mores; political, social and environmental consciousness and activism carried on with fearless dialogue; a wide economic disparity with its resultant social problems; traffic; pollution and changes in the landscape, among others. If it's happening in Aspen, it's a good bet something like it will eventually happen in other ski resort communities, Sun Valley, for example.

In 2005, the city of Aspen implemented the "Canary Initiative" out of concern that global warming could inflict serious consequences on a town socially, culturally and economically dependent on and defined by skiing. Weather records indicate that winter in Aspen starts 18 days later in the fall and ends 10 days sooner in the spring than it did 50 years ago. There are 13 fewer days each winter when the temperature drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit than there were 50 years ago, and there are 31 more days of summer (defined as frost-free days) in today's Aspen than there were 50 years ago. Warmer winters, reduced snowpack, less water available in summer and increased forest fires are all signs of global warming's impact on Aspen and elsewhere.

Any other town that could be similarly described would do well to pay attention to the city of Aspen's Canary Initiative, which, among other things, explores ways the city can lower its carbon emissions footprint while at the same time raising the consciousness of the local citizenry about the reality and consequences of global warming. So far as I know, every western American ski town can be similarly described.

Consciousness leads to intelligent action. Unconsciousness leads to ... quagmires. Think globally, act locally; think before acting, personally and politically.

The Canary Initiative does not pretend that Aspen significantly reducing its carbon emissions would seriously alleviate overall global warming and its effects on Aspen. But it is a start and a role model—it will have some small effect, and, most important, it is one part of a grassroots, organic movement that is growing in most of the world outside the consciousness-free, conscienceless bubble that covers Washington, D.C. A few weeks ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed The California Global Warming Solutions Act that will impose new controls on major global warming polluters, including utilities and oil refineries. The bill, a no-brainer and politically risk-free for Schwarzenegger to sign, as four out of five California citizens support it, has helped the governor's green credentials in the political arena, as it should; but the bill was crafted and guided through the California Assembly by Democrats Fabian Nunoz and Fran Pavley. A few years ago, Ms. Pavley wrote another bill that limited the carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks in California, and Schwarzenegger supported that bill as well. That measure is the subject of a lawsuit from the consciousness-but-not-greed-free conscienceless bubble zone of the Bush administration and the automobile industry.

The city of Aspen, a symbol of materialism and consumer excess, is by no means a communal, back-to-the-earth, hippy-dippy counter-culture Utopia (which is not to be disparaged and deserves approval and from which there is much to be learned). In terms of the causes and consequences of global warming, Aspen is in the mainstream. And it is, along with the state of California, among the leaders in recognizing, addressing, intelligently discussing and finding solutions to carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. In addition to a mass-transit system, the city says it "generates enough of its electricity from wind and hydropower (that don't produce greenhouse gases) to equal 57 percent of the electricity used in Aspen." The Canary Initiative's mission statement notes that "global warming is our problem ... But the solution is also ours. Everyone has a role to play ... Each of us can find ways to save a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in our own lives."

Think of that: Each of us can find ways to save a ton of carbon dioxide emissions by learning about global warming and acting intelligently on that knowledge. And, of course, we need to elect government officials who will do the same in their personal and professional lives.

And no one—average citizen or governor of California—is completely free of inconsistency or even hypocrisy. Arnold, for instance, has banked a lot of political capital by signing the California Global Warming Solutions Act; but he owns a fleet of the macho manly (actually chico boyie boyie) pretentious, gas-guzzling, carbon-dioxide-emitting behemoths called "Hummers." When he is on vacation in the Western ski town of Sun Valley, he has been seen driving his Hummer between his 17,000-square-foot ski cabin north of Ketchum to town and to the ski hill. Surely, the good governor could do a better job of cutting down on his personal carbon dioxide emissions and learn to lead by personal example rather than from the politically safe posture.

We can all do better. Arnold's an easy (even irresistible) target. His inconsistencies are only different in degree and lack of style, not kind, from those of the rest of us. We can all do better. Aspen's Canary Initiative is a good start.

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