A few recent stories and essays
Producing 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.
The 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.
Again 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.
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.
Jobs 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.
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.
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.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast created our image of Santa Claus and our symbols for Democrats and Republicans. A mountain in Colorado bears his name.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Ed 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, 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.
Will 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 Warming 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 recently 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.
Redefining 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 correlation. 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
Gleaning 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 projected 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.
Colorado’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 The 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.
T. 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 Bureau 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’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.
Hot 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 Earthquakes, 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.
Telluride’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.