Even since the summer of '49, when Albert Schweitzer came to town to help the Paepckes celebrate Goethe, Aspen has been a leader in American society. Historically that leadership was in arts and culture, music and ideas. Today, it continues on many levels, but most emphatically on climate change - which NASA scientist James Hansen calls the key moral question of our time.
In this arena, Aspen's leadership has been groundbreaking. The Canary Initiative was created in 2005 to make Aspen ring a bell like "Kyoto" does when thinking about climate solutions. Aspen instituted one of the first carbon taxes in the nation on new construction. It has led the way on energy-efficient building codes and now gets 73 percent of its power from renewable sources, including two city-owned hydroelectric systems.
The Canary Initiative includes aggressive targets for carbon dioxide reduction and also focuses on policy, education and community engagement. And this makes sense, because Aspen has a lot to lose from climate change (as a 2007 study commissioned by the city showed) and also a global stage on which to begin solving the problem.
Given all this, why then is the Aspen Chamber Resort Association a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has done more to undermine progress on solving climate change than any entity on the planet? Worse, why is ACRA part of an extreme right-wing organization that in its history has opposed virtually everything Aspenites support - from civil rights and women's rights to the Clean Air and Water acts?
Through its annual dues, ACRA directly supports the chamber, the nation's largest lobbying entity by far, spending $132 million on lobbying in 2010. But the chamber is a right-wing corporate front group that gets 55 percent of its funding from 16 anonymous donors. Of the $32 million the chamber spent in the midterm elections, 94 percent of that money went to support candidates who denied climate science.
Membership seems counter to the city of Aspen's Canary Initiative and the interests of many local organizations, like Aspen Skiing Co., which recently sent a delegation to Washington to support the Environmental Protection Agency on climate, just as the chamber was opposing it. Or like Challenge Aspen, which has achieved international recognition. But the city supports the U.S. Chamber, which opposed rights for the disabled. The chamber's anti-Aspen ideology isn't a recent trend: Friedl Pfeifer founded Aspen's ski school, after returning from World War II as a 10th Mountain Division veteran. The U.S. Chamber opposed American involvement in the war. Could you manufacture an entity more antithetical to everything Aspen stands for?
Tom Friedman, almost an Aspen local, has said that "all shareholders in America should ask their CEOs why they are members of the U.S. Chamber." Why? Forget climate: The chamber supported the catastrophic drive to deregulate Wall Street, backed McCarthyism and props up polluters (after BP's oil spill, Chamber CEO Tom Donohue said American taxpayers should pay for the cleanup).
It's for all these reasons that other local chambers are fleeing the U.S. Chamber membership like rats from a sinking ship: In October, Asheville, N.C., Newton-Needham, Mass., and Homer, Alaska, dropped their memberships, joining more than 50 local chambers that have quit or denounced the U.S. Chamber. Major corporations are doing the same: Apple, Yahoo, Nike and others already have resigned.
Why does Aspen - this beacon of progress and hope and solutions - and its City Council, the mayor and the business community some 700-strong monetarily support an entity that is so radically partisan that it has opposed every piece of legislation designed to slow the onset of global warming?
At best, this is ignorance writ large. At worst, it's willful hypocrisy and self-destruction. There are tens of thousands of protesters across the globe demonstrating against the very inequity supported by the U.S. Chamber. Their outrage should be yours. Aspen can do its part, too, by using its name and status to withdraw membership, making a statement that will be heard around the world. Contact the Aspen Chamber now at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask it to do its job, stand for Aspen's values and resign now.