Less patience, but hope prevails at Climate Solutions Summit

More than 200 people gather in Breckenridge for the Climate Solutions Summit.

Arn Menconi
Special to The Aspen Times
Dr. Michael Mann stressed how important it is for citizens to get involved in climate change initiatives.
Courtesy of Arn Menconi

Mountain towns are the places where everyone wants to go to play, and community leaders and sustainable professionals are working daily on protecting our snowcapped peaks — not just for those who want to have fun, but also for those who live and work here.

In Breckenridge, with the aspens about to change, over 200 local elected officials, government staff, resorts and climate activists have come together for two days to work toward a 2050 Net Zero Carbon goal at the Climate Solutions Summit.

Three years ago, they all came together in Park City, Utah, to work together to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Due to COVID, folks had to put off meeting until now to recommit.

As Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula opened the conference, he described the role of mountain towns as one of leading by example for the recreationists who come to visit: A small mountain town with a dwindling population of a few thousand may not make a dent in the atmospheric carbon concentration of the planet, but these communities can show the way for visiting populations on the best practices the world needs to latch onto to protect these mountain towns as usable, skiable, hike-able and livable for future generations.

With several generations represented from their 20 to 70, what feels different is that some of the young staff are less patient.

Meredith Todd, an assistant city planner from McCall, Idaho, said: “We look at life milestones like buying a house, having kid and ponder — what’s there to look forward to when I can’t afford a house and probably shouldn’t have kids? This is why I bother with public service. Because I am of the mindset that the future not headed in a good direction, I’ve made a choice to work towards making the future more bearable. Someone, many someones, have to do it.”

Professor, keynote speaker, author and climate leader Michael Mann, who Leonardo DeCaprio resembled in “Don’t Look Up,” framed the urgency and hope in the wake of floods, drought, hurricanes, fires and climate refugees.

“Nowhere is safe from global warming,” Mann said. “The transition to a green future is on the way but not fast enough. We have to decrease emissions by 7% each year until 2050.” He added, “The excuses are deflection, division, doomism and delay. … Delay is the new denial. If we stop using fossil fuels, temperatures will stay flat, and we can stay below 2 degrees Celsius or less by 2030.”

Decisions for communities to make net zero carbon a reality require changes in housing and buildings, transportation, energy and agriculture, attendees said.

Three years ago at the Mountain Town Summit, Aspen City Councilperson Skippy Mesirow was in attendance. When asked what changes his city has made and their big bold goals, he said: “We left with the calling to rise to the necessary and not fall to the ‘possible.’ In the intervening years, we’ve put that into practice, reclaiming our leadership as a climate solution leader, (with initiatives) like striving toward comprehensive net-zero-waste goals where no organic waste will go unused.”

He emphasized that the greatest unified solution is housing the workforce within the city boundaries.

“It’s a climate, transit, workforce and community solution,” he said. When asked what keeps him hopeful, Mesirow said, “The indomitable nature of the human spirit.”

Dr. Michael Mann stressed how important it is for citizens to get involved and how much movements have forced politicians to bring about changes that are saving people’s lives and making the cost to transition from fossil fuels cheaper for all.

Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner, is a resident of Carbondale and a climate reporter.