AREDay: A mass mobilization of the green troops in Aspen
ASPEN – Scan the roster of speakers at the ninth annual American Resource Energy Day – or AREDay, which opens today in Aspen – and you see a wide range of participants: local politicians, military personnel, actors, tree-huggers, a Big Oil exec, energy wonks, athletes, filmmakers, journalists.
“And meditators,” added Chip Comins, AREDay’s founder and director.
Comins compares the world’s energy situation, and the related environmental issues, to U.S. involvement in World War II. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. didn’t look to the federal government, the huge manufacturing companies, the flocks of young men or the scientific community to battle the Axis powers. It looked to all of those segments and more to overcome the potential cataclysm.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Comins said.
He added that this year’s speakers include Jack Grynberg, of Grynberg Petroleum – “He made a fortune drilling for oil,” Comins said – and Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, a group of lawyers often hired by environmental public-interest groups such as the Sierra Club. In past years, Ted Turner (“He’s to the left of John Lennon,” Comins said) appeared on panels with T. Boone Pickens (“to the right of Attila the Hun”).
“We come to this from all segments of society, including Republicans and Democrats, men and women,” said Comins, who has been a filmmaker and rancher. “AREDay is neutral, strictly independent. We’re not blue or red – we’re green, the color of the environment and of money. We’re making an economic and environmental point: Clean energy is good for the economy and the environment. Republicans and Democrats need to recognize that is the way forward. It’s time now for everybody to work together.”
Comins says the current environmental situation is no less pressing than the bombing of Pearl Harbor. July was the hottest month ever recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Two years ago, an ice chunk four times the size of Manhattan broke off of Greenland; last month another chunk, this one twice the size of Manhattan, calved off. Comins says the critical factor in addressing the environment is in changing the way we produce energy.
“We’ve got to make a transition away from the massive burning of oil and coal,” he said. “And we need to do it fast. The science is in – glaciers are melting; that’s proof positive.”
Comins brought up Lester Brown, the founder of the Earth Policy Institute, who will deliver an AREDay keynote remark, “Time for Plan B,” on Sunday.
“Brown says we need a rapid, wartime mobilization, like during World War II, that speed and scale,” Comins said.
Comins said he believes that President Obama hasn’t sufficiently used the power of his office to effect change, the way Franklin Roosevelt did. In 1941, Comins said, Roosevelt gathered the country’s chiefs of manufacturing and basically ordered them to switch their production from cars to tanks and airplanes.
AREDay opens at 11:30 a.m. today with the Leadership for America’s Energy Future conversation, moderated by Comins and featuring Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman, whose books include “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” about the need for a green revolution.
But in addition to experts in the energy field, AREDay includes religious figures (the Rev. Jane Quiat, of the Aspen Community Church, is part of the panel discussion “A New Environmental Ethic”), athletes (Aspenite and Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug is included in the discussion “Athletes for the Earth”) and farmers (locals Brook LeVan, from Sustainable Settings, and Eden Vardy, of Aspen T.R.E.E., are on the “Local Food Production” panel).
The festival closes with a free concert Sunday evening in Wagner Park by bluesman Taj Mahal (who studied agriculture and animal husbandry at the University of Massachusetts). Introducing the performance is retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who commanded NATO forces during the Kosovo War, and now lobbies on behalf of using ethanol as an energy source. Sunday’s events include Yoga in Action Day, a collaboration with the Aspen Yoga Society and the Shakti Foundation.
“How do we popularize our own survival? How do we make it hip and sexy?” Comins asked of the inclusion of athletes, yogis and musicians in AREDay.
But he added that athletes such as snowboarders need continued cold and snow, that changing our food-production systems may be one of the keys to alleviating our energy woes and that there is a spiritual element to environmentalism.
“It’s the energy that runs our bodies, the energy that goes into our spiritual beliefs and practices – and the energy that runs our cars and computers. It’s important to connect all of those things to ensure our survival.”
At the same time, Comins doesn’t want to distract attendees from the fundamental issues.
“Basically, AREDay is about having the toughest conversation we can have: How do we tell the truth to ourselves?” he said. “Science is not a choice; it’s not a belief system. It’s a fact. We’ve got to make a transition away from massive burning of oil and coal. And this isn’t down there for our kids to worry about. This is about now.
“I think the earth is very resilient. Nature has a tremendous healing capacity. But everything has its limits.”
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