Andersen: When tourists become refugees

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Get ready for hordes of summer refugees — I mean tourists.

This summer, record crowds flocked to higher places. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association reported last week that summer visitation was off the charts.

Relief from unbearable heat in urban pressure cookers is prompting seasonal migrations of urban refugees who pass themselves off as tourists. But it’s not tourism when people are forced to evacuate unlivable places. Syrian refugees flooding Europe are not tourists. Neither are the legions fleeing unbearable heat, superstorms and Zika virus in the U.S.

This summer in Basalt, a woman asked me for directions to the Rio Grande Trail. She and some family members were eager for a bike ride. When I asked where they were from, the woman grimaced, “South Florida, which is not a place you want to be in the summer. It’s too hot to do anything but sit in front of the air conditioner.”

Air conditioning has allowed millions to live in tropical climates like Florida and desert blast furnaces like Phoenix. Those who can’t escape to the mountains simply crank up the air conditioning to make their lives tolerable.

Ramping up the air conditioning drives up energy consumption, which drives up carbon output, which drives up heat indexes, which drives people to ramp up the air conditioning in a self-destructive loop of cause and effect.

It’s the same with idling cars. When shoppers leave their engines running to keep the air conditioning going, carbon pollution drives up temperatures, which demands more air conditioning, and so on. Hundreds of millions of human beings are living with the windows shut and sealed against worsening heat waves as weather patterns do a quid pro quo on comfort technologies.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July was the hottest month on record and that 2016 is projected to be the hottest year in human history.

In Kuwait this summer, the mercury hit 129 degrees, a lethal broil that could fry an egg on the asphalt or fry the brains in your head. It’s like living on the sunny side of Venus! Human-influenced climate change is slowly, stubbornly being accepted as part of the problem.

NOAA warns that “suffocating temperatures may become the new normal if global warming continues unchecked.” So President Barack Obama has cited climate change as the issue of the day, the year, the decade, the century, as the most crucial issue facing humanity. Most of us are too busy texting to care.

Then came the “thousand-year storm” that hit Louisiana on Aug. 12, when rainfall was measured not in inches but in feet, forcing the evacuation of 30,000 people as floodwaters covered entire communities hip-deep in murky, brown lattes.

Add Zika virus to the heat and flooding, and summer tourism in the U.S. has the potential to escalate into untold migrations. Horrors of biblical proportions will cause the masses to flee in terror for their lives.

They’re fleeing what they have brought upon themselves through feckless consumption of carbon-based energy, much of it wasted on mundane pleasures and idiotic conveniences — like idling your car at the grocery store.

It all circles back to global population, which will not be seriously addressed until tipping points have set us on an unalterable course toward destruction of the fragile ecological networks that sustain us.

Most Americans refuse to acknowledge the threat because of complacency with the cornucopian culture that knows no limits on the bounteous gushing of resources. Such is the success of propaganda from commercial interests that are making immoral profits driving us down the road to decadence.

Here in the mountains, we will have front-row seats to throngs of teeming refugees — or at least to those rich enough to “vacation” far from their blistering cities, storm-ravaged communities and disease-ridden neighborhoods.

One day, our desperate vacationers will simply stay put, claiming squatters’ rights to vacant second, third and fourth Aspen homes built as pleasure palaces for myopic elites who will be the last to recognize the coming apocalypse.

The mountains will be the final stand as the United States of Atlantis sinks slowly into the rising seas of climate change and the upheavals of social dysfunction. That’s when our fickle tourists will become hapless refugees.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at