Hot air over the hearth debate |

Hot air over the hearth debate

ASPEN – The controversy over the downtown fire hearth has created more hot air than the fire hearth itself.

For the environmental purists, the hearth, with its 9.7 tons of annual carbon emissions, smacks of hypocrisy. After all, the city’s Canary Initiative rings somewhat hollow when a portion of our tax dollars helps fuel a global warmer.

For others, it’s a charming downtown fixture that gives people a place to gather, sip cider and warm their hands ” as if it were out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It also serves as a glorified lighter of cigarettes, which is not so Rockwellesque.

Whatever the case, the city is now entertaining the idea of replacing the fire hearth with a device that would provide hydro-powered heating and human-powered lighting. It also would serve as an educational tool by informing people about renewable energy and the like.

It’s difficult for us to criticize the steps the city is taking when it comes to the fire hearth, but it’s also hard for us to get worked up about it when we hear the zoom of commercial and private jets flying in and out of Sardy Field everyday.

After all, it was our elected leaders who approved the expansion of Sardy Field to accommodate more aircraft. And tourism officials recently gave $100,000 to Frontier Airlines as a way to entice the low-cost carrier to Aspen.

We understand the importance of air travel to Aspen’s tourism economy. Directly or indirectly, it pays the bills. But make no mistake, the airport is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. The fire hearth, by comparison, can be likened to a gnat.

At the behest of one reader, we looked up Aspen’s emissions inventory for 2004 ( and found some statistics that really tell the tale.

In 2004, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport handled jets that burned 20.2 million gallons of fuel. The same year, air travel accounted for 41 percent of Aspen’s emissions. Likewise, a recent study by Climate Mitigation services showed that 61 percent of Aspen’s residential carbon emissions come from second homes, which on average are vacant 277 days a year. To the city’s credit, it is considering charging higher rates to residential customers who use the most electricity.

Even so, it should look no further than our airport when it comes to the war on global warming. Squabbling over a fire hearth, when set against the backdrop of Sardy Field, seems like a trivial pursuit, no matter what this debate has come to symbolize.

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