Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Just for fun, I’m going to start by quoting one of my least favorite people: the reliably despicable Dick Cheney.
And then, to really make it fun, I am going to agree with him. Sort of.
The former vice president (probably the last public figure who will ever be willingly known by the nickname “Dick”) formulated the “One Percent Doctrine.”
Some of you, no doubt, hearing “Cheney” and “one percent” in the same sentence will assume we’re talking about his popularity rating.
But, no, Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine said, roughly, that if there was a 1 percent chance of a catastrophic terrorist attack, we must respond as if it were a 100 percent certainty.
The world has seen the danger of that way of thinking – although I know some readers (if they’ve gotten even this far) will argue that Cheney was right, damn it!
So let’s set terrorism aside (as if we ever could) and talk global warming.
Certainly, the global warming debate goes on (and on … and on), motivated by sincerity, skepticism, money, politics, plain cussedness – take your pick.
But, just as certainly, the potential worst-case-scenario results of global warming are far more severe than even a nuclear terrorist attack.
Really? Yes, really. We’re talking floods, fires, massive extinctions, many millions of human deaths, hundreds of millions of people losing their homes, major cities being wiped out.
That sounds bad enough to me.
But that’s where we run into Mr. Dick’s One Percent Doctrine.
Let’s set aside lame-brained politicians who scream that global warming is a hoax. We can also skip past the perhaps well-meaning but almost certainly misguided sorts who say we’re in a period of global cooling.
And let’s also ignore the “punctuationists” who say that “global warming” is actually a transcription error for “Global War: Ming.” (That’s when Ming the Merciless, Flash Gordon’s nemesis, evil ruler of the planet Mongo, vaporizes the Earth with his death ray. I hate it when that happens.)
Setting all that aside, any reasonable person will surely agree (don’t you just love that phrase?) that there’s far more than a 1 percent chance that global warming is real, dangerous and accelerated (if not entirely caused) by us puny humans.
We don’t need to debate. We’re talking about a 1 percent chance.
And, given a far more than 1 percent chance of a global catastrophe, the One Percent Doctrine says we must respond as if it were a 100 percent certainty.
And setting aside (just for a moment) my apparently genetic, always annoying, snottiness, really folks, isn’t that the situation?
How can we blithely ignore a not unreasonable prediction that we’re heading for catastrophe?
Which brings us, inevitably, to Aspen’s damn fire pit.
(And, yes, I now people have been calling it the “fire hearth,” but that’s certainly a pleonasm. A hearth, by definition, always involves fire. Of course, if we’re going to quibble, I suppose I’d have to admit that the thing isn’t really a “pit,” since a pit, by definition, is a “deep hole in the ground.” And this apparently unnamable thing is elevated a foot or two above the ground. So it isn’t a fire hearth and it isn’t a fire pit, it’s … OK – I’ll get back to you on that one.)
Anyway, as endlessly debated in government meetings and letters to the editor and as eloquently described in last Sunday’s Aspen Times Weekly, the endlessly annoying whatever-it-is continues to be … well, endlessly annoying.
Supporters say it is a delightful amenity that brings residents and visitors together in joyful harmony to warm themselves while they linger on the Aspen mall during the chilly winter months.
OK. I think we can all agree that, whatever it is, it ain’t that.
If we drop the happy talk, we can say it was supposed to be something that winter tourists would find perhaps charming and at least warming, which would enable them to spend more time downtown shopping.
Fair enough. A tourist trap in the true meaning of the words.
On the other hand, which is why we’re discussing this unnamable thing today, critics say the gas-powered (actually gas- and electric-powered) warming device is a blatant, symbolic energy waster, causing the release of nearly 10 additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
Ten tons of carbon dioxide may not seem like a lot – Aspen as a whole is on track to release something like a million tons – but that’s not really the point.
The point, such as it is, is that Aspen, proud as all get-out about its anti-Global-Warming “Canary Initiative” is all about symbolism.
After all, nothing that happens here has any real effect on anything – at least, not at the global level.
True, Aspen can be a breeding place for ideas – but even the brightest of Aspen ideas have to travel somewhere else to have any real impact.
Proud though we may be, Aspen is just too small to take direct actions that will have any direct effect on the word at large.
So we have the Canary Initiative that allows us to symbolically lead the way. We are – as we so cheerfully declare – the “canary in the coal mine.” And if that’s not symbolic, I don’t know what is. (And trust me, I do know what “symbolic” is. I went to college. Really. I may not be a PhD, but I know how to spell it. “Cogito ergo sometimes,” as the fella says.)
So (OK everybody, deep breath, here we go) if there’s a 1 percent chance that we’re 1 percent serious about the 1 percent possibility that global warming will mean the end of human civilization as we know it (time for another deep breath), then we have to at least pretend to make a 100-percent effort to control the .001 percent of Aspen’s carbon effluence that seeps out of that damned whatever-it-is.
Does the actual carbon matter? Of course not.
Does the symbolic canary matter? Make up your own mind – but, since we’re looking at things through the prism of the Cheney One Percent Doctrine, I know how Dick Cheney would deal with that canary.
With a shotgun.
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Last week, The Aspen Times ran an article about limiting home size in Aspen and Pitkin County. One might think that climate change is finally poking at the Aspen bubble.