Michael Appelgate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

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May 6, 2012
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Climate Impact Day paints bleak picture on Aspen Mountain

ASPEN - As the sun baked the Gondola Plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain on Saturday afternoon, Mayor Mick Ireland pointed to Bell Mountain and its dwindling snow.

"Right now, because of the disappearing snow, you're looking at the peak river output you'll see all year," he said.

Ireland led off for six other speakers at the plaza for 350.org's Climate Impact Day. The Aspen event was one of more than 1,000 rallies in more than 100 nations in an effort to "Connect the Dots" between extreme weather and climate change. Aspen organizers adopted another theme: "Protect Our Winters."

"The main point is that climate change is already happening," said Micah Parki, 350.org's regional organizer. "We are seeing a lot of impacts such as less snowfall."

"We're standing in solidarity with people around the world."

The first demonstration Saturday took place in the Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands. Organizers held that event underwater near a coral reef - one in danger of disappearing because of changing ocean temperatures.

Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co., echoed Ireland's comments, saying that the climate already is affecting businesses.

"This was the hottest March in the Lower 48 states in history," Schendler said. "We don't just have a climate problem - we actually have a democracy problem."

He indicated that free speech is actually limited in the U.S. to those who have the money to make enough noise. But events like 350.org's serve to give the majority a voice and to educate people about climate change.

"We may be the most ecological-illiterate society in history," said Chris Lane, chief executive officer for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Lane said that youth today can name more iPhone applications than birds in their backyards. After Lane finished, photographer and author Peter McBride spoke more about people's lack of knowledge about their environments.

"The Colorado River used to flow into the Sea of Cortez," McBride said. "Then it stopped in 1998. What surprised me was that people didn't know that. Change starts with small doses of awareness."

Perhaps the most impassioned speech of the afternoon came from 11-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of the Boulder-based environmental group Earth Guardians. Martinez shared with the crowd his early experience in advocating for more climate change awareness, and his vigor for taking the cause to Washington, D.C., politicians.

"My generation will be the ones seeing the consequences of climate change," Martinez said.

After the speeches, organizers assembled the crowd on the slope and encouraged each person to don white clothing to represent the scant snow. Participants created a white dot to "fill in for the lack of snow."

In another demonstration, volunteers attempted to ski down a small slalom course on the barren slope. Organizers said the scene indeed could be in Aspen's future if climate change continues at the current rate.

Aside from increasing climate-change education, Ireland stressed the need to elect officials who will advocate for more "green" legislation.

"It's an election year," Ireland said. "Vote with the environment in mind."

mappelgate@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated May 6, 2012 01:18AM Published May 6, 2012 01:16AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.