December 24, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoWith every Christmas light that twinkles around the Andersen household there comes a glimmer of guilt. For every filament that blazes with holiday cheer my eco-guilt fumes like the coal-fired power plants that provide the juice.Eco-ignorance is bliss when you can burn electricity without weighing the long-term consequences of strip mines, global warming and acid rain. In my household, I have become the Green Grinch, whose constant reminders to turn off unnecessary lights dims a holiday symbolized by unnecessary lights.This obsession about assigning environmental impacts to everything is the result of my naïve sense that future generations deserve consideration and a measure of sacrifice from today’s consumers. Try as I may, I can’t ignore the condition of the world we bequeath to our progeny. What better Christmas gift is there than a healthy environment?That’s why I’m a skeptical of the Skico’s “SkiGreen Tags” program, which helps skiers offset their travel-related global warming emissions by paying a small fee. Skiers who add $20 to a season pass or pay $2 extra for a day pass receive a SkiGreen Tag that eases the eco-guilt of getting to and from Aspen.It’s very much like the practice of selling “indulgences.” Pay off the church and you were declared free from the taint of wrongdoing in the eyes of God. A sliding scale determined the amount, according to how venial an individual’s sins. What a convenient solution to human foibles and church deficits.The church sold indulgences, blessed the sinners and sent them on their sinful way. The Skico sells SkiGreen Tags, blesses each skier and puts them on a “wind-powered” chairlift. I think the Skico has the higher integrity because the money it pays into the SkiGreen program funds the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a nonprofit that supports “clean, sustainable and domestic renewable energy” across North America.SkiGreen Tag buyers are “credited” for enough negative emissions to offset 150 miles of driving to and from Aspen. You can stick these tags on your helmet to show you’re part of the Skico’s “SaveSnow” global warming awareness campaign.The tags are called renewable energy credits, carbon offsets that give conscious consumers the opportunity to fund wind power, biomass, energy efficiency, etc. The problem is the same as what the church faced with indulgences: Sinners pay the money and keep on sinning.”I’m part of the solution, not the problem,” a woman effused in a recent article after buying renewable energy credits in San Francisco to offset her energy consumption. “Now I don’t feel guilty when I drive my car.” The article suggests once you invest in RECs, you can live an energy-intensive lifestyle, sin-free.The Skico bears the same stigma. It wins green awards for prestigious climate policy initiatives, outspoken commitments to energy efficiency, generous investments in RECs and the visionary SaveSnow campaign. Meanwhile, it’s building a new base village at Snowmass, a huge, energy- and resource-intensive development that, at least by appearance, obviates gains from SkiGreen Tags.The city of Aspen is in the same boat. It launched the laudable and ambitious Canary Initiative in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally. Meanwhile, monster homes spring up like thistles and Sardy Field caters to private jets that guzzle fossil fuels and spew greenhouse gases.”At worst,” the RECs article states, “carbon offsets can encourage consumption and prevent people from making carbon-cutting lifestyle changes, such as driving less, taking public transit, and using less electricity.”Does buying a SkiGreen Tag make driving a Hummer or flying a private jet OK? I hope not, because what we really need is more guilt to lever us into being carbon-neutral – even if that means becoming a Green Grinch who dares to turn out the Christmas lights.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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