Aspen quantifies its contribution to global warming | AspenTimes.com

Aspen quantifies its contribution to global warming

Janet Urquhart

Aspenites and visitors alike are no doubt acutely aware of how much it costs to buy a gallon of gas in town.Few, if any, have a clue about the cost to the environment when that fuel is fed into the internal combustion engine that powers their trip across town, up the pass or down the valley. Very likely, few motorists ever ponder the impact of their driving habits, let alone know how many pounds of carbon dioxide are spewed out their SUV’s tailpipe on an annual basis.But that kind of data – what driving cars, heating homes, turning on the lights and jetting in and out of town cumulatively produce in greenhouse gases – will be the focus of a broader than citywide study.Calculating Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions – the main culprit of global warming – is the first step in trying to reduce the community’s contribution, according to Dan Richardson, the city’s global warming project manager.”It establishes a base line so we can track progress in the future,” he said.Richardson and Lee Cassin, head of the city’s Environmental Health Department, met Thursday with Richard Heede, a consultant with Climate Mitigation Partners of Old Snowmass, to touch base before Heede begins his work. They’ve defined a community boundary that encompasses more than the city of Aspen for the assessment. It will take in residential areas on Red Mountain, east of town and as far downvalley as the North 40. The impacts of the airport and the county landfill will be included.It will be Heede’s task to assess Aspen’s emissions inventory – in essence, figure out how much greenhouse gases the community is currently producing. The City Council approved a $20,000 contract for the work last week.He’ll be tallying everything from electricity consumption to the diesel burned in buses and construction vehicles. He’ll calculate how many tons of greenhouse gases are produced by Aspen’s vehicle traffic and by burning coal, for example, to power homes, businesses, schools and other buildings.When he’s done, in about three months, Heede will report back to the city on its total production of greenhouse gases, as well as the output from various sources.Generally, a community’s emission sources can be divvied into thirds: electricity, heat and transportation, according to Richardson.But if Aspen discovers a disproportionate share of its emissions comes from transportation, for example, it can focus on reductions there.”Most people don’t know how much carbon emissions come from burning a gallon of gasoline,” Heede said.One individual might best contribute to lowering emissions by taking the bus a couple of times per week; another might retrofit a home to make it more efficient.”This inventory will help identify those opportunities,” Heede said.Homeowners can already log on at aspenglobalwarming.com and calculate their carbon footprint, Richardson noted.”It’s a little abstract right now, in that a person wouldn’t know how it compares to the rest of the community, or the rest of the country, for example,” he said.”I think people want to do something, they just don’t know what to do,” Cassin said.The emissions study will not tackle the impacts of shipping items into Aspen for consumption, whether it’s fresh seafood served up at sushi restaurants or bottled water from Fiji. On average in the United States, according to Heede, food travels about 930 miles from its source to the table. Assessing that impact could be a second phase of the assessment, Cassin said.The emissions assessment is part of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, a multipronged approach to fighting climate change on the local level.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com