Aspen seeing 23 more ‘no-freeze’ days than in 1980

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times

There are 23 more “no-freeze” days in Aspen in present time than there were in 1980 — a chilling reminder for the city’s Canary Initiative leaders who are working to reduce Aspen’s carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

Climate change also could have chilling effects on tourism, the city’s primary industry, as well as the lifestyles of those who live and play in the mountains.

“This is how climate change is affecting Aspen. … It is real, and you can talk to any community member, and they’ll tell you they’ve seen this loss of freezing days,” Canary Initiative Director Ashley Perl told Aspen City Council during a work session Monday evening. The purpose of the work session was to update the council on the Canary Initiative’s continuing plans to combat global climate change as well as examine progress so far.

This year marks 10 years since Aspen has actively worked as a city to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2005, the city launched the Canary Initiative to lead this effort and committed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

As of today, the city of Aspen has seen a 7.4 percent reduction between 2004 and 2014 — the majority of which occurred between 2004 and 2011, Canary Initiative staff told the City Council.

Aspen was at the forefront of implementing public climate policy when it started the Canary Initiative, an effort to promote environmental stewardship and reduce the threat of climate change throughout the valley and around the world, and Perl said it should remain at the forefront. The Canary Initiative’s primary areas of focus today are similar to the ones established 10 years ago: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen and globally and to ensure that Aspen is prepared for a changing climate, according to a memo from Perl to the council. The initiative said it works to divide its time between local action and global policy.

Perl explained it’s important to address climate change not just locally but globally, as well, because “greenhouse gases are unique in that they leave our power plants and then quickly join our global atmosphere.”

This is why members of the Canary Initiative and the Aspen Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to partake in a three-day international conference about climate change, where some of the world’s leading climate scientists, physicists and economists were in attendance.

Furthermore, as Perl also said, “Aspen’s name does carry weight.” She pointed out that the city has international recognition, which is why Aspen has an opportunity to make a difference.

On the local level, Perl told the council she’s encouraged by progress so far — especially when considering the city’s 5.5 percent population growth since 2004 as well as significant economic growth — but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

If global climate change remains on its current trajectory, she said Aspen could see temperatures rise by 10 degrees by 2080.

In celebrating some of Aspen’s success in reducing its carbon footprint, Perl was quick to credit the city’s “amazing” transportation system. Aspen developed both the first rural bus-rapid-transit system, which she said provides rides to 1 million passengers each year on Aspen’s in-town, mostly free bus routes, and the first rural bike-share system, We-cycle, in the U.S.

In terms of bike-friendly cities, Aspen is rated as a “silver” city, “which is a testament to the fact that bicyclists feel welcome and safe riding in town,” Perl said.

The Citizens Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend proposal, which would put a price on carbon and reduce fossil-fuels use, according to Aspen Chapter co-leader Ruthie Brown, impressed Councilman Art Daily.

“I think the carbon-fee dividend concept is extraordinary,” Daily said.

The city’s inclusion in Georgetown University Energy Prize, a national competition for cities and counties to implement creative strategies to reduce emissions, is another way in which the city is pursuing its goals. Aspen’s effort in the competition, which has a prize of $5 million, has been branded locally as the Aspen Energy Challenge.

It’s an accomplishment simply to be accepted among the other 50 cities, Mayor Steve Skadron said.


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