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A clean slate

Dear Editor:

Recent events have vividly illustrated some of the negative effects of our dependence on fossil fuels – the loss of lives, vast marine destruction, and substantial economic loss. These catastrophes are lose, lose, lose situations.

Ironically, if it weren’t for events like the Deep Horizon oil spill and the West Virginia mining tragedy, many of the costs mentioned above would continue to stay out of the media spotlight and off our radars. A number of articles nationally and locally have reflected on these “hidden” costs. Paul Krugman, a Nobel-winning economist, referred to them in his recent New York Times Magazine article as “negative externalities.”

One of the largest negative externalities – carbon dioxide – remains unaccounted for. In essence, this means that the unabated pollution of our atmosphere is free. Perhaps, it remains this way, at least partially, because we can’t “see” carbon. After all, what does a ton of CO2 look like? For better or worse, it looks like air …

This no-cost approach to climate pollution has drastic effects on both the global environment and economics. Ecologically, the correlation is clear – we’re experiencing climate change. The economic effect is not as obvious.

Within the energy debate, it is often said that renewables can’t compete with the low cost of fossil fuels. That statement requires a complex response; yet, one of the primary reasons is that fossil fuel related pollution is free. In other words, the real cost of our consumption is not realized in the marketplace. In order to create a true economy, we must establish a price or limit on carbon and greenhouse gas pollution. The U.S. can quickly accomplish this by passing climate and energy policy.

Unfortunately, the carbon policy debate grows more contentious when the international market is discussed. China’s perceived inaction is often cited as one reason the U.S. should not pass climate policy. This is a weak argument for a number of reasons. Here’s one specific economic response: China did make a policy decision. It decided to invest and established itself as the key player in the emerging clean tech marketplace. Today, China is the world’s largest solar manufacturer and the largest wind market. Instead of embracing similar goals, Congress’ forward progress is being delayed by a specific group of legislators and the powerful lobbying industry.

Historically, the Roaring Fork Valley has made a number of strides to increase its sustainability and maintain a healthy economy. For example, Aspen Electric is over 75 percent renewable. Pitkin and Eagle counties passed Energy Smart last fall, which is an innovative concept gaining traction throughout the country. Yet, we, as a local community, nation and global community have tough decisions to make regarding our future. Are we OK with the destruction associated with coal, oil and gas production, particularly on the Roan Plateau? Will we take meaningful steps to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions? Will we price greenhouse gas emissions and create a competitive marketplace for clean energy? It’s up to you – the citizen, consumer and voter.

Be active. Contact your elected officials. It’s quick and easy, and you can find most of those contacts on CORE’s website – aspencore.org. Tell them that you support the clean, safe production and efficient use of energy.

Nathan Ratledge

director, CORE


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