Let’s dismantle the warming hearth | AspenTimes.com

Let’s dismantle the warming hearth

John Colson

It was a moment of quiet joy.I was listening to the news on KAJX this week when it was announced that one part of the city of Aspen is telling another part of the city that it screwed up.Apparently the citys global warming manager, Dan Richardson, is about to recommend that the city shut down its much-debated warming hearth at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Galena street. You know, that structure that looks like a 1950s-era spaceship squatting on the sidewalk, the one that occasionally gathers a half-dozen or so chilled strollers who pull up chairs and sit for a minute before realizing that the warmth kicked out by the hearth isnt quite a match for the ambient air temperature.Yeah, that one, the one that cost $25,000 and has only been run at night as the city tries to justify the expense of building it and running it, when the things very existence flies in the face of another controversial city program, the Canary Initiative.That this thing was even built is a testament to an old adage often applied to government, The left hand doesnt know what the right hand is doing. In this case, I think it was more a matter of one hand, the mayor, not giving a damn what the other hand was doing, never mind the rest of the body. The mayor has made it clear she loves this thing, regardless of how it looks or what it represents.According to figures provided to The Aspen Times last spring, the warming hearth, if run 10 hours a day in the winter and four hours a day in the summer, would generate more greenhouse gas equivalents than a 3,500-square-foot house occupied by a normal local family, and nearly one-fifth as much as City Hall itself.According to the radio report, the usage has actually been less than that, so perhaps the output of greenhouse gases has not been that high.So, one might argue, it aint all that bad. There are lots of 3,500 square-foot houses around here, many of them wasting far more than a normal local family would think of wasting, so whats the big deal?Well, the big deal is this Aspen touts itself as a leader in the movement to make government reduce what is known as its carbon footprint. The city claims to believe that government buildings, facilities and vehicles should all emit less greenhouse gas, as an example for the rest of us to do the same.But pumping out thousands of pounds worth of carbon dioxide per year to warm the tootsies of a few wealthy tourists is not exactly the kind of thing that complements Aspens green image.Of course, Aspens image is not all that shiny anyway. Observers regularly point out that the upper Roaring Fork Valley, in terms of unnecessary lighting alone, is a standout among communities that waste energy.And Highway 82 is a continuous embarrassment to us all. There is no greater single source of harmful vehicular emissions than a line of cars standing in one spot, idling and chugging away, inefficiently burning gas in the tank in a way that both depletes a limited liquid resource and increases a dangerous gaseous one. All one has to do is stand by the roadside and breath deeply to get an impression of what our commuting hordes do to the atmosphere every day of the year. In absolute numbers were not on a par with, say, Los Angeles. But in relation to our stated philosophies and governmental goals, our highway congestion symbolizes a certain hypocrisy that is even more egregious than the warming hearth.So, its about time the right hand told the left hand to sit down, pipe down and back down. Weve wasted enough time, money and resources already on a misguided project. And the hearths emissions are something we can fix; just turn the damned thing off.The highway? Well, we can continue to try to talk the problem to death. Thats done a lot of good so far.John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com