Klanderud attends meeting of mayors
Inhabited for centuries, the tiny village of Shishmaref sits perched on the Alaskan shoreline, amassing a rich cultural history replete with fishing lore.Thousands of miles away, nestled in a valley on Colorado’s Western Slope, the small city of Aspen is a high-country playground for the world’s moneyed elite.What do the two have in common?Both are fighting the shared enemy of global climate change.This past weekend, 32 mayors from 17 states met in Girdwood, Alaska, to view firsthand the effects of global warming.Aspen’s mayor, Helen Klanderud, attended the event.”The point of this is to raise awareness,” Klanderud said. “I think we have a lot to learn from other communities, and I think we have a lot to share.”Shortly before adopting the Canary Initiative in March, city leaders looked at local climate-change indicators such as the decrease in below-freezing days and changes in average temperatures.After she heard from the mayor of Shishmaref, the similarities struck Klanderud.”They reported the same things we were,” she said. “It put things in perspective.”Just this week, the Aspen Skiing Co. unveiled its latest ad campaign, casting snow as an endangered species if humans don’t take immediate action to slow global warming.But while Aspen is taking preventive measures to preserve its setting and its heritage, the clock has already run out for Shishmaref. The town is slipping into the sea, and in 2002, residents voted to relocate further inland. The cause of the changes, according to the National Resources Defense Council, is that “rising sea levels and fierce storms have eroded the shoreline.”Presumably the result of increasing global temperatures, thawing permafrost and melting sea ice make the shoreline ever more vulnerable to erosion.The town is so distant from Aspen, it’s hard to make a connection.But local efforts alone cannot stem the tide of climate change. The mayors meeting, Klanderud said, is one way of networking to learn what other communities are doing and to take action locally, when higher levels of governments do not act.”It’s about mayors taking leadership because of the failure of the federal government to join the Kyoto Protocol,” she said.After hearing from other communities, Klanderud said she was impressed with how fortunate Aspen is to have the money and the willingness to take steps in the right direction.”Aspen has had a very strong environmental ethic going back to the ’60s,” she said.Additionally, she said, Aspen is lucky that its major employer supports environmental efforts. That’s not the case in other cities, some of which have multiple industries.Although Aspen contributes more than its share of greenhouse gases, especially with jet traffic at the airport, Klanderud said the city is “right up there” with other communities making strides to be green.”But I don’t think we should brag about that,” Klanderud said. “In one sense, it’s easy to do this here. It’s not as easy to do this in other communities.”Klanderud came away from the meeting confident that the city can do its share to reverse current trends without suffering economically.”If you can increase your revenues and at the same time make a big contribution to reduce emissions – to purchase more renewable energy and build a better community … I don’t see anything wrong with that,” she said. “You strive to make it possible, and you’ve got to aim high.”In the end, the small steps have a “ripple effect,” she said. Aspen was one of 296 cities whose mayors recently signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.”If each one of those communities implemented some steps, doesn’t that ripple out?” she asked. “Large or small, we can make a difference.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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