A few recent stories and essays

IMG_5642Purloining our groundwater savings accounts

Groundwater is being pumped at unsustainable rates across the United States. But solutions are not universal — and, in fact, some make the argument more well-pumping needs to be done along Colorado’s South Platte River. Continue reading →

crude oilDarth Vader and white knights of oil and gas

Oil and gas drillers hurt themselves badly by resisting transparency, but the risk must be viewed within a broader matrix of considerations, speakers at a risk analysis conference seemed to agree. Continue reading →

Kemmerer pow0001Utilities of the future

Less coal, more renewables, plus more storage — that’s our energy story of the future. But a panel of speakers in Denver largely agreed that a new business model will be necessary for our utilities for them to accomplish what we want them to do. Continue reading →

Ira Kaye Kassel, a volunteer, sifts through material for small bones and other materials.Climatic hip-swinging at Snowmass

Even as they hoisted giant mastodon bones over their shoulders, scientists gathered at 9,000 feet in Snowmass suspected the greatest value of the site would be what it could tell us about changing climates at high elevations. Read on…

Sand Creek healing No. 2 reducedRemembering Sand Creek’s men of peace

The Sand Creek Massacre poses so many questions. Could American settlement occurred without these and the other grisly killings? What does it tell us about our wars today, our fears and hatreds? When revenge and punishment are the only answers, what does that gain us. And to me, is also asks of us how we honor the peacemakers, not just the warriors? See more.

China climate pact a good step not a swindle

Kutscher-lefthand from Martin

Chuck Kutscher’s PowerPoint presentation to the Colorado Renewable Energy Society about climate change was a 90-minute roller coaster of hope and despair, rich detail and brimming with quick-summary charts on everything from sea-level rise to wind-turbine heights. Continue reading →

Colorado gets to first base with its water plan

Russ George spoke like a proud father, and in a way he was as the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the draft of a state water plan. But allocation of what is arguably Colorado’s most precious resource remains the subject of contentious if generally civil debate. Continue reading →

GM’s skin in the electric car game

General Motors rep Hal Lenox makes the case that his company is now very much in the chase for alternative fuel vehicles, including a soon-to-be-released Chevy Volt. Continue reading →

rmiic-8

Rethinking energy in small office buildings

Rocky Mountain Institute rethinks energy in small office buildings and hopes to be a model for small office buildings across the United States. One clue: Having air four feet above your head that stays at 68 to 72 degrees really isn’t necessary. Continue reading →

Why ski towns can benefit from a carbon fee

Local good deeds in energy efficiency and renewable energy, although commendable and important, can never been enough as long as it’s free, absolutely free, to pollute the atmosphere. We need a national and ultimately an international fee imposed on carbon emissions. Continue reading →

 

Ryan Loflin in his pioneering field of hemp near Springfield . 2013 photo/Allen Best

Hemp: the answer for whatever ails you

Can industrial hemp be one answer to the slow-motion train wreck of Ogallala aquifer depletion in eastern Colorado? That is the argument made by native son Michael Bowman. Continue reading →

Colorado RiverReslicing the Colorado River

Colorado River expert Eric Kuhn lays out the big picture of one of the world’s hardest-working rivers—and wonders if we aren’t already seeing the evidence of a changing climate. Continue reading →

Beauprez and Hickenlooper on Colorado drilling

Colorado gubernatorial candidates Bob Beauprez and John Hickenlooper offered sharply contrasting approaches to the drilling controversy during appearances at the Energy Forum in Westminster. Continue reading → – See more.

Whole Foods bottled waterEating local, but drinking global

The locavore movement has caught on, emphasizing local origins of meat and other food. But when it comes to water, inverse logic seems to prevail at high-end groceres. Has the time come for a locagua movement? See more.

After a century, small hydro arrives to irrigation canals

For a century, there was talk but nothing more of harnessing the power of falling water on the irrigation infrastructure east of Montrose, Colo. Now, two turbines are at work in producing electricity, and tow more are planned. See more 

(Some, but not all) farmers like EPA Clean Water definitions

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union articulates why it thinks that proposed revisions to the Clear Water Act definitions will be a good thing for farmers—and everybody else. Of course, not everybody agrees, especially Republicans. Continue reading → -

train tracks at dusk minA couple degrees hotter and what do you get? 

Colorado has become hotter overall in the last several decades, and can expect to get at least 2 degrees warmer by mid-century. That makes Denver more like Pueblo. What else does it make? Continue reading 

Colorado Green downsizedWind energy’s triumphs and challenges in Colorado

Wind energy in Colorado has picked up bragging rights in the last decades, and more gains are very possible as a result of the EPA’s Clean Power Plant and technological improvements. But there are challenges, too. Continue reading 

Craig plants downsizedA Colorado coal town and EPA jitters

About 40 years ago, the town of Craig, located in northwestern Colorado, hitched its wagon to coal. Now, it’s jittery about exactly what that might mean as the nation reviews the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. See more.

Ski expansion in time of drought

Drought in California? Taking the long view, Starwood-financed Mammoth picks up two ski areas to produce a Cali4nia season pass to challenge, at least in Southern California, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass. Continue reading

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Good intentions, bad information on the Colorado

With Lake Mead rapidly drawing to a time when it can no longer provide the water committed to California, Arizona and Nevada, Brad Udall examines the thinking of politicians and policymakers in authorizing the Central Arizona Project in 1968. Continue reading →

Energy tanksPornography, cannabis & drilling operations

“It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it,” one speaker told the Colorado’s Oil and Gas Task Force. But too many people believe it is broken for the task force to stay the course. Among the prickly questions the task force will have to address is why local governments have more say about pornography and cannabis operations than they do about  drilling. See more.

Hayman fire 2012 reducedForests are forever? Don’t count on it

Fire  and insect epidemics have dramatically reshaped some forests in the Rocky Mountains in recent years. Buckle up, because the changes are almost certain to accelerate. That’s the bottom line of a new report called “Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk.”

Unusual number of red-heads in Colorado

The turning of the aspen leaves this year in northern Colorado has been exceptional, especially with so much red and gold. Why? Even tree experts are hard-pressed to explain the cause of this splendor.

Hotel MadelineRecovering real estate market only goes so far

It seems like forever-ago from the darkest moments of the recessionary night when mountain real estate was a dreadful business. THings are now starting to perk up in Telluride. But resort developers say sales still aren’t storng enough to justify much in the way of new  construction. See more.

St. Vrain Creek fenceHuman fingerprints on that showerhead?

Remember the big floods of 2013 in Colorado? (How could you not?) There was much speculation about the unprecedented rainfall in certain areas being evidence of global warming.  Was it? 

What Coloradans and Kiwis have in common 

Colorado and New Zealand are alike in ways other than they both have tall mountains, according to a report issued by Environment Colorado. Read more

Mountain towns compete for $5 million energy prize

Park City/Summit County, Aspen, and Jackson Hole are among three mountain communities vying for the $5 million in prize money offered by Georgetown University’s Energy Prize, which is intended to accelerate energy efficiency in residential and government buildings. Read more

Katharine Hayhoe 2

Quips, grins and the serious stuff of climate change

The enduring appeal of Katharine Hayhoe is that she talks about the serious stuff of climate change with giggles, grins and wisecracks . She also has a razor-sharp intellect that distills why we cannot afford to dawdle. Continue reading

Trappers LakeThe cradle of wilderness and Denver’s recreational fan

One seed for the concept of wilderness can be traced to Trappers Lake, where Arthur Carhart was dispatched to survey a road in 1919. But Carhart was really most interested in the democratization of public lands and broad access of recreation. Continue reading →

Elk Ave colbalCrested Butte’s spat about beer and brands

You have to wonder if Crested Butte would have gotten this worked up if the brewer of Fat Tire had rented its main street for a party. Or Pabst. But it was Bud Light that painted the town blue. Continue reading →

Tom Steyer

Billionaires, big problems and big thinkers 

Discussion of a carbon tax was one strong theme at this year’s American Renewable Energy Day conference in Aspen, and the need for institutional reform was another. But like most conferences, there was a lot of stone-skipping, too. Continue reading →

Bob Braudis, Aspen Art MuseumIt’s Aspen but is it art?

Aspen’s new $45 million art museum debuted to the public on Aug. 9 with round-the-clock open doors.. It also opened with controversy. Continue reading →

Vail Meadow Drive July 2014Vail looks beyond Baby Boomers  

For almost four hours on a July morning , Vail Town Council members sat through a monster PowerPoint that consisted of roughly 150 slides rich with data about mountain resorts, demographic trends, even projected effects of global warming on temperatures and snow in Colorado. They made no decision, but the elected officials clearly realize that as a community they cannot sit still. See more.

Ted TurnerTed Turner howls with the wolves in Aspen     

Ted Turner was on the stage in Aspen recently to hear the accolades for his achievements, and one of them is how he assembled big blocks of land in the West and made peace with the natives. See more.

Jackson Hole’s new demographic wrinkle

The dust has settled from the recession in Jackson Hole, and economist Jonathan Schechter says much about the valley’s business looks familiar. But he detects something new: the increase in people working in the professional services. See more.

Chinese tourists in mountain towns    

Chinese are becoming a familiar sight in Jackson Hole this summer. In Colorado mountain towns, not so much. But tourism officials in many mountain resorts keep on eye on the Chinese as they gain the liberty and wealth that enables them to travel abroad. See more.

Kit Carson, hero or villain in Taos?

Taos is arguing again about whether to remember Kit Carson favorably on the name of a park. In Colorado, we could have the same arguments about the individuals after whom some of our most prominent geographic features are named. But look too deeply, and all of our heroes are like to have flaws. See more.

IMG_7465Carrots, sticks and conserving water    

As Colorado continues its conversation about deeper cuts in residential water use, a legislative committee hears loud and clear from towns and cities that they see a limited state role. It matters because the state expects to nearly double in population in the next 35 years with virtually all of its water spoken for. See more.

Bone on bone in the Colorado River   

The broader story about the Colorado River is about a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. Now, instead of cooperating to build things, states are getting together to help conserve water, a fundamental paradigm shift. See more…

An opportunity for rural electrical co-operatives  

center pivot sprinklerMichael Bowman says  there was ever an argument for a transition to a 21st-century energy infrastructure, look no further than our current challenges with the economies that have been built on the backs of the Colorado River. See more…

A role for American exceptionalism  

This idea that we should do nothing about power plant emissions because we can’t immediately solve the problem by ourselves is a gloomy one. What happened to good old American exceptionalism and the idea that American can be a leader in the world? See more…

Pagosa Springs hopes to get into hot water

Pagosa water feeaturePagosa Springs has enough hot water for bathing, but is there sufficient hot water available to produce electricity, warm 10 acres of greenhouses, and deliver heat to 600 homes? See more…

Can Crested Butte pull if off?  

Can Crested Butte really find the dimes and quarters to build a top-end performing arts center at a cost of more than $20 million. The community has more money then you might think, boosters insist. -See more…

Immigration policy and resort towns 

Former mayor Mick Ireland says the question for Aspen is, in simplest terms, whether national policy will treat our Mexican and South America work force as Irish and Italians were treated or the way Chinese were treated for generations, singled out for exclusion and kept in the shadows.  See more…

EPA testimony always earnest, sometimes eloquent

Hundreds testified in support of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, many of them eloquently so, but perhaps the most interesting comments came from those with their wagons hitched to fossil fuels.This is likely to be the nexus of the conversation in coming months. See more.

Risky addictions

Bald Mountain cornice min reducedI understood the immediate risk of remaining after dark on those steep slopes, when the soft snow had become hard ice for the night. But putting tar into my lungs was only a vague and distant risk. It seems to me there are parallels with civilization’s perilous dependency on pushing carbon into the atmosphere. See more.

Voting where your heart is, not where you live

Home may be where the heart is, as the adage goes. But where you vote is where you conduct most of your affairs, explains a district attorney after looking into allegations of fraudulent voting in the mountain town of Montezuma. See more.

crude oil_1David vs. Goliath in Colorado’s drilling controversy

In Colorado’s intensifying debate about oil and natural gas drilling, each side has claimed to be David going into battle against a carpet-bagging Goliath. But in the early numbers, it’s clear to see more stones in one of the sling shots.

Tools for imagining local climate changes 
To make global climate change more local and personal, Dr. Brian Enquist and his partners are developing ways to allow viewers to see effects of warming temperatures on their local forests. See more about what they can envision in the Aspen area.

Eagle 20070001Teensy, tiny and other small towns of the West 

The newspaper described the Colorado town of Eagle as “tiny.” I was mystified by that description. And then it called Casper, Wyo., a place of 50,000 people, a “small town? What makes a town tiny or small,  big or gargantuan?  Or, for that matter, itty-bitty?

The case for a tax on carbon emissions 

We can’t wait for the last iota of evidence on climate change, and we need to accelerate action by adopting a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Ski towns should be at the forefront of this advocacy.

Telluride Medical Bud Co.Notes from the cannabis frontier

Vail remains on the sidelines, Aspen rejected a new tax, governor frets about THC dangers on young minds. These and other notes about cannabis from Colorado’s mountains towns.

Our obesity mess 

Unhealthy food may be cheap, but it isn’t free. Former Aspen mayor Mick Ireland analyzes the obesity mess in the United States. And where is the most remote place in the lower United States as defined by distance from a McDonald’s? See about driving far for fast-food.

Tornadoes in the mountains 

A tornado in early June that swirled across Colorado’s South Park was rare enough that it got significant attention. In Oklahoma? Hardly anyone would notice. But more significant twisters have sometimes occurred in mountainous areas such as near Aspen and especially at Yellowstone.  See the story.

colorado Springs coal plantAspen’s role in new climate policy

In 2006, the Aspen Skiing Co. filed an amicus brief in support of Massachusetts in its effort to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The outcome of that case is finally unfolding in new regulations governing coal-fired power plants.

And the winner in Park City is… 

It was easy to slap around Powdr Corp. for its gigantic clerical blunder. And it’s easy to see that Talisker and Vail Resorts nailed a big win. But the biggest winner is…

Trolling for flaws on I-70 financing 

A new study examining potential revenues from tolls on I-70 casts doubts about the financial feasibility of a new tunnel adjacent to the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels in Colorado. See what people are saying.

Standup surfer, SalidaEvolving FIBArk, changing Salida

Salida held its annual FIBArk boat races again recently, a tradition dating to 1949. But both the boat races and Salida have evolved over the years. See how.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGranby’s wounds 10 years 

The Colorado mountain town of Granby on June 4 remembered, but did not celebrate, the day that it was in the national spotlight. Even now, wounds remain from Marvin Heemeyer’s strange and terrible revenge on his neighbors. See more about the wounds that remain.

Forward looking in rural Colorado 

Michael Bowman, a fifth-generation resident of Colorado’s Yuma County, argues that restoring  economic growth in rural Colorado will occur exactly when it embraces its interdependence within the state’s  diverse economy. See more in Secession of rural Colorado, the sequel.

The dark side of paradise

Alma's Only Bar downsizedPeople who live in mountain towns tend to view their towns as exceptional places. In many ways they are. But great expectations can turn sour, even poisonous when the internal geography of the human soul just does not match up to the physical geography. An essay from 2009 reflecting on three acts of violence in Colorado mountain towns.

Essential community glue

For more than 30 years, Don Colcord has been the pharmacist in Nucla, Colo.. He’s kind and funny and, by all accounts, an essential glue to the community. He was celebrated in a 2011 profile in the New Yorker. In May, he appeared in Telluride to speak after a short film about his work was shown. He’s Jimmy Stewart in “A Wonderful Life” — but, it’s clear, that it’s not always an easy role.

Highest grocery store in the chain

In May, Whole Foods opened a store in Frisco. At more than 9,000 feet, it’s the highest of the stores more than 300 stores. Frisco officials, meanwhile, are happily contemplating where the $950,000 in annual tax revenues can be used.

Broken people, broken environments

Mountainfilm and new Sheridan reducedBroken people and broken environments were one of the many themes at Mountainfilm in Telluride this year. One film made the argument to broken river ecosystems was to break up the dams on the Snake and other rivers. But how do you mend broken people such as those flocking to the Bakken fields of North Dakota. That that was the more difficult question.

A milestone at Denver’s Union Station 

AmtrakA milestone for Denver and perhaps Colorado as the bus concourse opens at Union Station. But an even bigger milestone will be in two years, when commuter trains start service to DIA and to Arvada/Wheat Ridge. Mark Smith, a a founding principal of East West Partners, says that experience may nudge Coloradans over time into being even more accepting of rail-based transportation.

Establishing a new ethos for water

Maroon Creek, Aspen 2012A new water normal in mountain towns Breckenridge intends to crimp the habits of some of its water customers, helping create a new normal for water use. Vail started doing so after the drought of 2002—but in outdoor irrigation, not indoors.

Aspen’s conserved water bucket

And Aspen two decades ago realized that continuing the old ways of water use would be monstrously expensive. From a peak of 516 gallons per capita, use in Aspen has declined to 164 last year.

Unnatural acts in Colorado 

Exactly how much of water from Colorado’s Western Slope gets diverted across the Continental Divide? 10 percent? 20 percent? 90 percent? And the answer is…

The trouble with lawns

Green fields June 2012

Should residential developers  be required to sharply limit the amount of water, say to 15 percent of a lot size? That’s the prickly question a legislative committee will take up this summer as Colorado continues its prolonged discussion about how to accommodate a population expected to double by mid-century with water supplies that might, if anything, decline.

Gen X takes helm in Eagle 

Eagle’s newest town trustees are all relatively new to the town, in their 40s, and share a common vision of the town as a destination, not a bedroom, and as a mecca for mountain bikers.

Low-flow toilets in Colorado 

Major hardware stores already carry WaterSense-certified toilets and other fixtures, but a bill sent to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper would mandate that only those fixtures be sold both wholesale and retail beginning in September 2016.

Big potatoes sell efficiency in Texas

The evidence from the Texas city of San Antonio suggests major savings for water, but there, it took a big potato to sell some people.

Acclerating green building in Colorado. A panel at a recent conference in Denver talked about LEEd-certified buildings, net-zero buildings, and what may accelerate the pace of energy reduction from our building sector.

Jamestown struggles to its knees. Nearly destroyed by water, a Colorado mountain town now needs water service to entice the return of the 80% of residents who are now living elsewhere.

ForestFlyer higher rezForestFlying into summer Vail Mountain was the test case for application of new federal law that allows expanded use of ski areas during summer.  Vail Resorts explains what was involved in its thinking as it considered how to best use this new authority. And yes, it did go to Disneyland, but also the Alps, to contemplate how best to engage visitors between and during activities.

As it operates on private land, Park City Mountain Resort began installing ziplines, an alpine coaster and other non-skiing activities early in the last decade. Whitefish Mountain Resort also has been high-flying for some time. But Jackson Hole’s Snow King Resort hopes to add some oomph into its summers in order to help survive its flagging winters.

DCIM102GOPROButte on the slide in Jackson Hole But this isn’t the first time that hillsides in mountain towns of the West have slumped and gushed mud. And reviewing the history of the Rocky Mountains, Spenser Havlick says that communities need to provide room for flooding rivers the way they have for avalanche paths.

Limits proposed on public-private partnerships  In a bill that could affect I-70, State Sen. Matt Jones proposes to restrict public-private partnerships to 35 years and to mandate increased transparency. And Southwest Energy Efficiency Project study finds managed toll lanes an efficient way to address congestion on I-70 and other highways.

Piling on the renewables in Telluride  In 2009, the mayor of Telluride committed to an ambitious goal of dramatically reducing the role of fossil fuels in municipal operations. Solar panels for affordable housing units is the latest step toward that goal. But sometimes it’s two steps forward and it’s back you go, to borrow the line from Mary Chapin Carpenter, a frequent performer at Telluride Bluegrass.

open doorsA wanton waste of energy? Good business sense? Or both? Stores commonly leave open their doors on the cold, cold days of winter. And summer when the air conditoner is cranking, it’s the same story. A look into the thinking at two mountain towns that thought about telling merchants what to do — but didn’t. And the science that supports that decision.

Lessons of Ludlow Massacre, 100 years later  Our stories of the West are of horned bison and brown cows, frothy rivers and untamed wilderness, tended gardens and pastoral landscapes. Our art celebrates individual prospectors, brave trailblazers, lonely cowboys, stoic Indians. We overlook our industrial lunch-pail moorings. The massacre at Ludlow was one outcome of that process of industrialization.

77 years after we took leave of our senses To justify making cannabis illegal, strange and disturbing reasoning was used by do-gooding drug crusaders. You don’t need to imbibe in leafy, herbaceous substances to be muddle-headed.

4/20 a state holiday in Colorado?  Emboldened by their success in making marijuana legal, cannabis activists are leading a drive to ask voters to amend the state constitution an official state holiday. Meanwhile, Christo continues with his plans to put a plastic toupee atop Bald Mountain, near Vail. (Yes, you probably should read the rest of this).

The Fraser River carries very little water in late summer, although Denver’s planned increase in diversions wouldn’t change that as the water would be skimmed from the three runoff months of May through July. Photo/Story Group

How can less be more for the Fraser River?  An agreement struck between Grand County, Trout Unlimited, and Denver Water is loaded with promises fro adaptive management of the Fraser River and its tributaries that the architects of the plan say will lead to better aquatic health. It’s a strange alchemy, this idea that less can actually yield more.

Why George Schulz thinks we can breathe a sigh of relief Now 93, George Shultz takes small steps but paints big pictures. Again this year, at the third annual Vail Global Energy Forum, he was the star. He talked about the gift of natural gas and the need to decentralize our energy supply infrastructure.

Tim Wirth

Three principles of climate change politics Former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth helped bring international attention to the real risk of climate change in 1988 at hearings he staged with  James Hansen, mopping his brow, on a hot day in  Washington.  Wirth admits he wasn’t above a little skullduggery to heighten the drama. But he says that a carbon tax—regarded by most economists as the only way we can get the kind of change in energy systems started that are needed—could come within five years.

Gypsum biomass plantProducing electricity from forest debris  Colorado now has a major biomass plant at Gypsum, with another one planned at Pagosa Springs and more yet possible along the Front Range. This could help reduce wildfire potential in wildland-urban interface. But how carbon neutral are such plants?

Breckenridge expects that it can gain $1 million in revenues this year from cannabis sales, and most of those taxes will be paid by visitors. Who says there’s no such thing as marijuana tourism?

Does the climate crisis need a technological breakthrough or something else? Auden Schendler makes the argument that what is needed most is acting on knowledge that we already have.  The civil rights was galvanized by ordinary people. The climate crisis now needs its own Rosa Parks.

How global warming is helping Whistler Blackcomb And why the changing climate could destroy the ski area operations in the long. The view of mountain manager Arthur Da Jong.

Savages, stalkers and sports mascots Another school debates whether it’s appropriate to use “Redskins” as a mascot. Truth be gold, mascots would be better if creative and original. Some are.

U.S. 36The Koch brothers, Colorado Democrats and other conspiracies. While the conspiracy theory trotted out to explain plans for tolled express lanes for U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder were quickly deflated, there are probably good questions to be asked about public-private partnerships. But haven’t those questions already been asked?

Bus rapid transit in the Rockies The $46 million VelociRFTA  has a fleet of natural gas buses and WiFi capability to make the commute  between Glenwood Springs and Aspen more pleasurable. Directors think the new BRT system will boost ridership 20 to 30 percent.

Aspen has something to brag about. It has reduced its municipal carbon footprint well ahead of the deadline specified in its 2005 climate change manifesto, the Canary Initiative. The footprint has shrunk 30.7 percent. But for the community as a whole, the 6 percent decrease is really no better than the United States at large.

Loveland Pass avalanche siteAgain comes news of skiers and ‘boarders, young and strong, knowledgeable about avalanches, equipped with transceivers, shovels and other gear of survival – all of this woefully insufficient when faced with the wildly seductive snows of the Teton Range. It’s a common story in the Rocky Mountains, one told again and again, as the snowy torrents take their  toll of avalanche fatalities.

Aircraft Tails EGE

Eagle County Regional Airport has 195,000 available incoming seats this year, second only to Aspen among mountain resort destinations of the West. Could things be better? Some people in the Vail Valley seem to think so, and they’re out to create a beefier funding platform for direct flights, winter and summer.

Veritcal Harvest alternativeJobs for developmentally disabled adults and tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies on a year round basis. What’s not to like about the vertical greenhouse being planned adjacent to a parking garage in downtown Jackson, Wyo.  Construction of  Vertical Harvest is expected to get started later this year.

Beetle kill reduce

Vail and the wildlife risk to homes If potential for fire was always theoretically evident in Vail, first the bark beetle epidemic and then the fires along Colorado’s Front Range have made that potential less abstract. New mapping by fire chief Mark Miller finds that 42 percent of homes are at high risk of wildfire.

 

 Sizzling statistics: resort valleys in 2013 in numbers

Mountain towns of the West, those with ski runs in the background, speak more or less the same language. And sometimes they have numbers that echo. Here are some statistics I gleaned during the last year.

Nast: the mountain and the Clausthomas-nast-santa-claus

Cartoonist Thomas Nast created our image of Santa Claus and our symbols for Democrats and Republicans. A mountain in Colorado bears his name.

Slide090Peering into the global resource precipice

Since Thomas Malthus, people have worried that natural  resources cannot support growing human populations. If those fears have always been proven unfounded, the  presentation by Vince Matthews remains  disconcerting. For instance, half of all oil used by humans have been used since 1986.

Oil and gas from different sides of the drilling rig

Why has the oil-and-gas industry in Colorado resisted regulation of drilling? And what part of concerns by local communities are legitimate? As an attorney on both sides of the drilling fence since 1972, Howard Boigon shared his observations on what he called “the latest reel in a long-running movie” in a presentation at the FrackingSense 2.0 series sponsored by the Center of the American West.

 Who drove down U.S. greenhouse emissions?

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as of 2012 had fallen to the lowest levels since 1994. Who’s should take credit? That was one of the sparring points as panelists dissected the President’s Climate Action Plan at a Davis Graham & Stubbs breakfast energy forum.

Yampa RiverAnd what if it doesn’t snow

After two more dry years in the Colorado River Basin, water managers started worrying about a third dry winter — and too little water in Lake Powell to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam. That would have far-reaching ripples— or even waves.

Winding coal downsizedThe end of cheap coal

While it has often been said the United States has 200 years of coal, the easily recovered coal is about gone — with huge implications for the power grid, says climate activist Leslie Glustrom. She calculates only 20 years of surface mining at the Powder River Basin.

In an effort to dampen community greenhouse gas emissions, Snowmass Village adopted the new iterations of codes for green building and energy efficiency. The codes are comparable to the LEED gold standard.

ElkCamp001_full Jeremy SwansonThe Aspen Skiing Co. now strives for at least LEED gold on its buildings, including Elk Camp, the mid-mountain restaurant at Snowmass. But  David Corbin, the vice president for planning, admits frustrations. “I wonder if our buildings shouldn’t be dumber and have less sophisticated controls and maybe we should instead be working harder on our basic building envelopes.”

Sandpoint, Idaho, was first in the nation to apply for a federal license for hydroelectric production under new law signed by President Barack Obama in2 013, but a small project near Silverton is the first in Colorado.

DITHOTR E CoverEd Quillen wrote columns for 26 years in The Denver Post, and 100 of them from 1999 to his death have now been issued in an anthology “Deeper in the Heart of the Rockies.” He did his homework, was always entertaining, and ultimately was a truth-teller. All of this was evident at readings held in Salida, Colo., and in Boulder, Colo., in early November.

Scott Sampson

Scott Sampson, a curator of dinosaurs, aims directly at the current challenges of climate change and species extinction in arguing for place-based education that occurs outside, in nature. We need to be rethinking about “renaturing” or even “rewilding” our cities, he says.

Small Station cam 2 finalWill we someday be levitating up and down I-70? A new study favors meg-lev for high-speed trains in the mountains, but high-speed steel-wheeled trains for the Front Range between Pueblo and Fort Collins. But where’s the moola? The  Golden-Breckenridge train would cost $5.5 billion, and a Front Range train $14 billion.

Snowmastadon update Paleontologists were yanking the bones of mammoths, mastodons and other now-extinct species form the site at Snowmass. Three years later, they’re now in their research laboratories, trying to figure out how the climate form 75,000 to 135,000 can tell us about our own.

Severe weather expert Roger Pielke Jr. says the International Panel on Climate Change would better fulfill its mission of synthesizing science and informing policy makers if it wasn’t so bulky and, at this point, defensive. A case in point is the 2007 report’s session about severe weather.

Resilience in the face of severe weather Park City, Utah, has joined the ICLEI program for cities that seek to adapt to the more severe weather predicted for the future as a result of global warming.

Ski towns and a carbon tax  Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County voters will decide whether to enact a tax on electric bills that one county commissioner describes as being somewhat close to a carbon tax. A thought leader in Jackson Hole also is talking about something that smells like a carbon tax. But throughout the United States, such taxes are nearly existent.

Whistler, global warming, and the balloon payment Peak to Peak gondola copyWarming temperatures have benefited Whistler Blackcomb, producing more snow since the 1990s. The ski area has added resilience through addition of its popular Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Meanwhile, the ski company has grown revenues while decreasing its carbon footprint. But there’s a balloon payment due, and Arthur De Jong fully realizes it.

A new generation of Rosa Parks Climate change activist Auden Schendler has sifted through the arguments and strategies for change needed to confront the magnitude  of the challenge with our continued polluting of the atmosphere. But this challenge, he says, is even more difficult than the civil rights movement of which Parks, by refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, was an icon.

Objection is part of Christo’s art The artist Christo was in Colorado several times Over the River croppedrecently to explain his controversial Over the River project on the Arkansas River. Although insisting he’s no masochist, he said he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, considered controversy to be part of the art, and as such art that is publicly and broadly accessible.

Want to make a meteorologist squirm? Ask for hard numbers immediately after a flood or big rainfall, such as drenched large parts of northern Colorado in September. But weird weather is nothing new.

McKibben in Tellruide 2Redefining what is radical Bill McKibben came through Denver this week, signing copies of his new book, “Oil and Money” and laying out his argument for why universities should divest from holdings in fossil fuel industries.  His goal: to create power to force carbon dioxide-emitting sectors to agree to a carbon tax that starts creating meaningful change.

The link between thin air and longevity Mountain counties in West rank among highest in country for longevity, physical activity and absence of obesity. Still, there’s some uncertainty about how much is causation and how much is mere To bike trailscorrelation. A study from the University of Washington helps pose some of these questions.

Dallas at noon, skiing at dusk? Probably not the best idea, according to new study from the Alps that found that those who moderated their travel to higher altitudes suffered fewer heart attacks when engaging in strenuous activity

St. Vrain Creek fenceGleaning lessons from the floods What did the Colorado floods of 2013 teach us? We have a hard time looking back, let alone looking into a future that probably doesn’t resemble the past.

Weather at the edges Is the effect of global warming evident in our weather? Most of the time no, say climate scientists. But some say it can be detected in the extremes, as storms gain more punch.

Rethinking our buildings In 2005, the U.S. government Denver 20090001projected a sharply increasing demand for energy that would be met by as many as 1,900 new power plants, most of them burning coal. Ed Mazria formed Architecture 2030 and issued a challenge to architects, designers and engineers to figure out how to create buildings that use less energy. In a speech in Denver, he reported great success and even greater opportunity as the world rapidly expands and renovates its built environment during the next 20 years.

Car in St. Vrain CreekColorado’s 2013 floods in context  This year’s floods may have been the result of a 1,000-year rain event, and in terms of sheer damage, this may be the most expensive flooding ever. But by other measuring sticks, the Big Thompson flood of 1976 was far worse. I was there.

Dillion Dam and shouts of the past The 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillion Dam was celebrated on Sunday with various splish-splash recreational activities. But the reservoir is a vital storage vessel for 1.3 million people in metropolitan Denver. And it didn’t occur without a lot of legal shouting.

New laws make small hydro easier Ouray overviewThe federal permitting process governing conversion of existing dams, irrigation dams and even city water mains  to hydroelectric production was painfully slow and expensive. Thanks to two new laws, the process will become much simpler for places like Ouray, Colo., and Basalt, Colo. By some estimates, there could be hundreds and perhaps thousands of megawatts of clean energy to be had. And Basalt, Colo., retrofitted its water system to produce electricity, but the federal permitting process wasn’t easy.

Another rig on dark nightT. Boone Pickens and natural gas The energy billionaire was in Aspen recently for the American Renewable Energy day conference. “You’ll have to put up with natural gas for 100 years,” he said. This, he says, is a very, very good thing.

Razor’s edge on the Colorado River A new report by the Lake MeadBureau of Reclamation about reduced releases from  Lake Powell only reinforces traditional themes for the Colorado River. Patricia Mulroy of Las Vegas, the bull’s eye for this narrowing gap, calls for more cooperation, not competition. But Stanford’s Buzz Thompson suggests it’s also time to reconsider policies governing population growth in the Southwest.

Aspen wooden flume downsizedAspen’s troubled hydroelectric project With a bold vision contained in 2005′s Canary Initiative and a seeming mandate from voters, Aspen city leaders plunged ahead with efforts to shrink the city’s carbon footprint by recreating the hydroelectric system that had delivered nearly all the electricity between 1893 and1958. Now, the turbines sit in storage.

Why electric cars deserve subsidies In Colorado, electric cars remain relatively scarce, little more than 1,5000 as of April, although that does not include hybrids. But federal, state and local governments believe that  electrified vehicles will play a much bigger role in reducing ground-level ozone and greenhouse gas emissions.

Waldo Canyon hillsideHot summers, forest fires, and discerning climate change from natural variability We crave simple lines of cause and effect, black and white, winners and losers. This story has nuance. It’s difficult to distill these uncertainties of giant risk in the distant future in a story about today’s weather or this summer’s corn crop.

Randy Udall and the energy that made us all gods Randy Udall offered a dark view of civilization’s future, but didn’t scowl; he smiled. He was fun, even sparkling in a rough-hewn sort of way, and always, always interesting.

Elephants in the Rockies mastodon tibiaEarthquakes, people no longer considered prime suspects in deaths of mastodons and mammoths at Snowmass, but scientists continue to think it’s a superlative window into Ice Age climate changes.

Going forward in Aspen while looking back Aspen has a tendency to look over its shoulder. How could it not? Several locals recently grappled with how to move forward and what about the past deserves to be kept.

Tim DeChrist0001_2Telluride’s lesser-of-evils energy discussion Before he went to federal prison, Tim DeChristopher wanted to argue that disrupting federal mineral auction in Utah was the lesser of evils. At Mountainfilm this year,  there were several lesser-of-two evils arguments.