AREDAY opens with call to greenies to toughen up |

AREDAY opens with call to greenies to toughen up

Maybe environmentalists need to release their inner Al Gore when talking about climate change.

Gore made national headlines earlier this month during an animated speech in Aspen in which he called out climate deniers – the people who deny that the climate is warming because of human activities.

The American Renewable Energy Day conference in Aspen didn’t cite Gore by name, but one of the opening speakers on Thursday suggested that audience members adopt aggressive tactics when dealing with climate deniers.

Jigar Shah, CEO of an organization called the Carbon War Room, told the audience they must “confront the liars” on climate change issues or they are “part of the problem.”

Shah urged them to “make a scene in public” by confronting politicians or speakers who suggest that alternative energy isn’t a viable option for handling power needs and reducing carbon emissions.

“It’s essential for you to call their bluff,” Shah told the scores in attendance in the Hotel Jerome ballroom.

Shah is an expert at finding low-carbon solutions for business-as-usual practices, according to his biography in the AREDAY program. He helped turn solar power into a multibillion-dollar industry.

Shah said there is vast untapped potential to apply low-carbon solutions to the U.S. transportation systems and infrastructure. There are trillions of dollars ready for investment and sharp minds ready to focus on issues. All that’s needed is a comprehensive plan on how to proceed.

Shah dismissed billionaire Bill Gates’ plan to solve world power issues with small, portable, nuclear reactors as a false hope designed to make money. He said it is critical for environmentalists to do their homework and find out which experts “really matter” in the fight to save the planet.

He pointed to another of the opening speakers, Lester Brown, as one of the experts to follow.

Brown, an elder statesman of the environmental movement as founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, said three developments are “central to our future” in the fight to ease global warming: closing coal plants, building wind farms and mass producing electric vehicles.

There are some positive steps to report, he said. There is a “de facto moratorium” on the construction of new coal-fired power plants, and some of the 492 existing plants are closing. U.S. coal consumption dropped 8 percent in the latter years of the past decade, he said.

The effort to curtail coal received a boost in July when billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to the Sierra Club’s efforts to fight against coal. When someone that influential says coal has to go, Brown said, people will listen.

Brown envisions wind farms at the center of a new U.S. energy economy. Wind power will become more viable as more farms are developed and the power grid gets tied in nationally, he said. Right now, the knock on wind is that it isn’t reliable when the wind doesn’t blow. But as the system gets bigger and interlocked, the reliability will exist. “The wind is always blowing somewhere,” Brown said.

The U.S. currently gets less than 4 percent of its power from wind farms, but wind power production is increasing 30 percent annually per year, according to Brown. Market forces will drive further growth. Coal is getting phased out because of its environmental impacts and nuclear power doesn’t have public support.

“There’s so much space and wind out there but no wind turbines,” Brown said, insisting that will change.

He concluded his opening address by saying that economics will force the world’s governments to take climate change more seriously in the near future. Natural disasters, some exacerbated by climate change, and crop failures spawned by changing climate are costing humans untold billions of dollars.

“I think we’re looking at sticker shock on climate change,” Brown said.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, backed Brown’s assertion. She said weather records “are being smashed” this year. Just eight months into 2011, there has been $35 billion in damage in the U.S. from weather events. Climate scientists believe the warming of the atmosphere is responsible for causing droughts in some areas, deluges in others and heat waves that plagued much of the country in July and into August.

“This summer, every single state set a heat record,” Lubchenco said. There were 5,000 heat records set nationwide in the first half of August, with 3,000 of them for high minimum temperatures during nights, she said.

Climate change “loads the dice” for more extreme events, according to Lubchenco.

Despite widespread consensus in the scientific community about climate change, neither the public nor Congress is compelled to take consequential action at this point, she lamented.

AREDAY is in its eighth year of exploring solutions to climate change. Chip Comins of Aspen, who serves as co-director with Sally Ranney, founded the conference. Thursday featured the first of 95 speakers who will explore the 2011 theme of “Putting the Green in Green: Monetizing Carbon in the Global Economy.” The conference will continue into Sunday. A free expo with displays of renewable energy technologies will take place in Aspen’s Wagner Park from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

More information on the conference is available at

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