Mike Hagan: Aspen can be a `green giant’ | AspenTimes.com

Mike Hagan: Aspen can be a `green giant’

There’s nothing like a trip to the Front Range, steaming below its brown canopy of pollution, to make one appreciate the beauty, clean air and healthy living we sometimes take for granted here in Aspen.

I took my family for a long-overdue visit to see my parents and sister’s family this past weekend, and as always was first struck by the advantages to city living. We bought school supplies for my daughter for less than half of what we would have paid here. We visited the zoo, toyed with seeing a Rockies game and enjoyed a highly competitive game of miniature golf just minutes from my parents’ home in Littleton (I won).

But as the three-day weekend wore on I quickly became sick of idling at never-ending traffic lights, and taking in the wonderful view of strip malls and cookie-cutter developments, a good dozen of which pop up between every visit to the Front Range.

I did see Mars one night, but I’ll be damned if I could make out more than a couple of stars because of the light pollution. The sheer magnitude of it all made me realize the extent to which we, as a species, are killing ourselves and our environment.

As I made my way home through the hills on Sunday afternoon, I thought back to a meeting of the Aspen City Council early this month, when the members discussed ways they could set the environmental bar by which all towns are judged.

Two things specifically struck me: Torre’s challenge that Aspen strive to be the environmental leader, and City Manager Steve Barwick’s comment that the best way to do that is by spreading the word about what we’ve accomplished and what we will accomplish in the years to come.

That could start a ripple effect, as neighboring resort towns realize that they, too, could make a name for themselves as environmental leaders. And as they follow Aspen’s example, envision a world where, one by one, towns across the country fall in line, making changes small and large that do a little bit to improve the health of our planet.

Before you start rolling your eyes and humming “What a Wonderful World it Could Be,” think about what past councils have accomplished. The city currently gets 57 percent of its electricity from wind power or hydroelectric sources – 57 percent! I knew we had such a program, but I had no idea that we had pursued it to such an extent.

We look at the huge second homes in town and can’t help but think of the waste of resources. But through the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, which charges folks who heat their large pools and sidewalks and invests that money into renewable energy programs, city officials estimate it will keep 42 million pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere over the next 10 years.

I didn’t know that. Did you? Does every other town in this country know? Does everyone know that the city uses 1 million pieces of recycled paper per year, that low-flow toilets have been installed at City Hall, that employees use hybrid vehicles to travel to out-of-town meetings?

Well, they should know. And they should know that the current council is talking about a possible rate hike to buy more wind power, that it’s talking about slowly turning the diesel bus fleet into hybrids, that it’s thinking about replacing City Hall’s heating system with a renewable energy source and – the biggest one of all – turning our current, awful recycling system into something that really works.

Good councils make a name for themselves not by simply paying lip service to “sexy” ideas. They pursue those ideas to the end. It is my sincere hope that this council has the guts and foresight to take on Torre’s challenge, and that they – and the rest of us – let others know about our accomplishments, that protecting Aspen’s most precious resource is something we all take very seriously.

[Mike Hagan is editor in chief of The Aspen Times. He can be reached at hagan@aspentimes.com. Editorially Speaking appears every Tuesday]

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