Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mountain Town News


Holiday lights twinkle, but at expense of stars

WHISTLER, B.C.—LED lights have been praised profusely. The lights are brighter and more efficient than even compact fluorescents, and certainly more so than the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

But their deployment is having a perhaps unintended consequence in Whistler. Because they cost less to operate and are durable, why not put up more of them?

If saving energy is the goal, then that defeats the purpose. It also defeats the purpose of seeing the stars in the night sky.

“Many of our village trees are now decked top to bottom with Christmas lights through the winter with hundreds of thousand more bulbs than before in the buildup to the 2010 Olympic Games,” notes Pique Newsmagazine’s Andrew Mitchell.

While these and other sources of illumination are truly beautiful, he says, “there’s also no question that all this electrical magic blots out the natural glamour of our night sky.”

Celestial twinkles are being suffocated by many other land-based lights, too. For example, lights designed to look like Olympic torches were erected along a trail in an area called Cheakamus Crossing. The torches light the paths, sort of, but also are directed skyward.

In some cases, there’s room for dispute about the proper balance. One transit stop that is used 22 hours a day is lit far too lavishly, say nearby residents. City officials cite the need for safety of travelers. At length, the bus agency has agreed to install shielding in fixtures to direct the lighting downward, at a cost of $200 per light.

It was once possible to see the Milky Way Galaxy from anywhere in Whistler. No longer, and a photographer who specializes in the night sky said it’s hard to completely get away from the glow of Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver.

Is there room for hope? A local amateur astronomer, who must now go elsewhere to view into outer space, points out that if energy becomes more expensive, it will be used more judiciously. That would mean pointing lights directly at what you’re trying to see, not wastefully in every direction, as is so often the case.


Aspen canary chirps but none too loudly

ASPEN, Colo.—In 2005, the city of Aspen released a climate-change manifesto, called the Canary Initiative, which vowed to slash community greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020.

The charter document identified Aspen and other mountain communities as the canary in the coal mine for global warming. The goal asserted then was to aggressively reduce Aspen’s carbon footprint and to serve as a model.

In what could be viewed as a mid-term, Aspen certainly isn’t flunking but it has a ways to go. By 2011, it had reduced greenhouse gas emission 6 percent compared to the 2004 baseline. Elyse Hottel, the city’s environmental initiatives project coordinator, said the carbon footprint needed to be down 11 percent by now.

In the last four years, reports the Aspen Daily News, the major gains were recorded in reduced emissions of methane from the landfill and reduced electricity. However, the emissions caused by burning of fossil fuels for air and ground transportation were up, and so were the heating and other power needs of buildings.



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