Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
As the economic downturn (read: depression) threatens our local economic vitality, what are the alternatives? Do we attempt to resuscitate the luxury housing industry and the development of high-end resort amenities, or do we pursue an economy based on different values?
The last time Aspen and the valley faced such momentous change was at the end of the “Quiet Years,” in the late 1940s, when culture and recreation replaced the failed mining industry and surged the economy forward on a 60-year growth curve.
That curve fueled the luxury home market, which is now saturated and overbuilt. Real estate developers today are like the mining entrepreneurs of the previous century ” dinosaurs.
The fast, easy money is gone and along with it ” thankfully ” the sprawl of resource-gulping monster homes. There’s no choice for valley communities but to refocus on something less rapacious and more sustainable than the “More! More! More!” syndrome.
According to the theory of “Deep Economy,” the topic of Bill McKibben’s latest book, our communities must become more self-sufficient and holistic if we’re to weather economic vicissitudes. We must strive for autonomy in food, energy, recreation, and culture.
Growing our own food in the Roaring Fork Valley is a big first step to establishing a local Deep Economy. We have the land, the water, the sun and a long enough growing season to produce loads of food. We have the potential labor if people are not afraid to get intimate with the land. Potatoes, sheep, beef, fruit and vegetables, all were once grown here. They could be grown again, making us independent of huge food chains and the rising costs of shipping goods half way across the country.
Producing our own energy with solar, wind, biomass, and hydro is another tenet of Deep Economy. We’ve begun doing that with solar arrays in Carbondale and Rifle, with Aspen’s formidable hydroelectric system, and with Holy Cross Energy’s wind power subscriptions. Every home in the valley should draw heat from the sun, and if we still need fossil fuels, there is a surfeit of coal in Redstone.
Our valley enjoys incomparable winter recreation with lift-served skiing, a world class system of mountain huts, and miles of cross-country ski trails. Summer recreation is even more expansive with hiking, rock climbing, biking, camping, backpacking, and fishing. These amenities need no further growth or development in order to attract tourism.
Our valley is culturally rich with music, art, theater, literature, science, and ideas. These cultural offerings have the power to enrich visitors and local residents beyond material appetites, and they require no further growth or development.
Deep Economy targets fulfillment and happiness instead of material consumer excess. In the looming shadows of climate change, peak oil, and economic overreach, Deep Economy could ideally achieve localized solutions and community solidarity for a higher standard of living for everyone.
We find ourselves today facing another chapter of the Quiet Years. The luxury development boom is a bygone era. The sooner we can shift gears and secure the economy of our valley by moving away from the growth dogma, the better we’ll fare.
It’s time to reboot, retool and reconfigure the way we live and the way our economy provides for us. That will take bold, visionary action by local governments aligned with creativity and flexibility in the private sector.
Here is an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to innovate new land uses that improve on, rather than exploit, this beautiful, gifted place. We need to promote autonomy, solidarity, and sustainability. Deep Economy is a high ideal that may enable us to redefine progress from the grassroots up.
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Columnist Paul Andersen continues to hope that the moral arc of the universe trends toward justice.