The polar bear in the room
August 15, 2012
As of Aug. 7, there were 27,042 daily record high temperatures set across the U.S. Apparently, global warming is real. Unfortunately, the inability of our political institutions to take any meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gases is also far too real.
Locally, our county commissioners are putting the final touches on approving a new airport master plan, which essentially doubles the size of our airport and increases the operational capacity of the single-largest source of greenhouse gases in the county.
The commissioners were given other choices. For the past two years, the Board of County Commissioners has sat on a proposal to offset 100 percent of aviation fuel sold at our airport with alternative renewable-energy production. Regrettably, viewing this proposal as a direct threat to its goal of massive airport development, our airport administration did everything possible to successfully kill the concept by falsely claiming that the commissioners had no choice, and it never once allowed the idea to be presented in public despite two years of “public input” into the master-planning process.
Now, if one of the most affluent and progressive communities in the country, run by hardworking, honest politicians, knowingly chose an unprecedented airport expansion and revenue maximization over significant greenhouse-gas reduction, exactly who is going to step up and do something? The answer is not encouraging.
Globally, known reserves of oil, gas and coal are currently valued at around $27 trillion. If we burn more than $7 trillion of these reserves, we will break the 3.6-degree temperature increase considered “acceptable” by the Kyoto agreements. If we burn it all, we could raise the average temperature worldwide by as much as 11 degrees.
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For reference, so far Earth’s temperature has only risen 1.5 degrees. What do you think the chances are that the oil, coal and gas companies are going to walk away from $20 trillion of assets in order to save the planet? We are faced with the stark reality that we either destroy the value of their assets by developing alternate energy sources and/or require the oil, gas and coal companies to mitigate the carbon-dioxide pollution their products cause. Good luck. These companies own the political system.
This is why the choices we make here locally are so critically important.
Yes, it will be nice to have a new, shiny airport to match Vail’s mammoth facility. But just imagine if our airport set an example to the world by seriously tackling aircraft carbon-dioxide emissions. Just imagine all the rich, powerful and influential people arriving here in their Gulfstreams and Global business jets, being shown how one small community actually made a difficult choice, and proudly demonstrated an important step towards addressing the problem.
Aspen is in the unique position to make a statement that can be heard around the world. And what have we said? What example are we setting?
Don’t expect that polar bear to give us a hug any time soon.