Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Last week, students in the Roaring Fork Valley got a bird’s eye view of our changing environment. EcoFlight, a local, nonprofit educational program, took groups of students into the air to see the bigger picture.

The focus of these flights was dead and dying forests, the scale of which has become ominous. Whole mountainsides of conifers have become ecological ruins. Meanwhile, aspen trees are being hit by a sudden decline syndrome that stripped their leaves a month before the fall colors. Instead of Silent Spring, we’ve had Eerie Autumn.

The students who flew with EcoFlight learned that some of these changes are cyclical, that nature is prone to alterations that are beyond the ken or control of man. The lingering question is what role man has played in these alterations.

This is where education begins for students who return to earth with a changed perception of their world, a realization that there is no returning to the way things used to be. What they’re coming to terms with is the myth of normalcy.

When Aspen went through the Silver Crash of 1893, most citizens assumed that, once the dust settled, the city would return to prominence. The Silver Queen, a large silver statue of a goddess in a chariot, was sent from Aspen to the World Exposition in Chicago as a symbol of a return to normalcy, meaning a return to the silver standard. The Silver Queen mysteriously disappeared along with the hopes of Aspenites. Silver did not come back, and Aspen entered “The Quiet Years.”

Aspen today is facing a similar prospect, with an assumption that the luxury resort economy can return us to opulence. Today’s Silver Queen is shipped worldwide in marketing campaigns and advertising blurbs, but the luxury market has faded.

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Recently, some economists have concluded that the recession is over, that America is getting back to normal. Unemployment statistics, home foreclosures, and peak oil tell a different story. Still, many choose to believe that the recession was only an unfortunate blip, a brief interruption in an otherwise seamless, upward economic trend.

General Motors is celebrating the recovery by pimping the 2010 GMC “Terrain,” a behemoth SUV. Its ad headline reads: “AND FURTHER, MORE.” Here is the myth of normalcy, in print. MORE has long been the mantra of a cornucopian culture, a mantra we thrust upon our children by equipping them with SUVs, diesel trucks, and ready cash to fill their gas tanks.

Such is our installment plan for the status quo, where we mire our children in the same outmoded, unsustainable model that we inherited from our parents. World events, however, are conspiring against this inheritance. Normalcy is a fast-fading myth.

As the students who flew with EcoFlight this week can attest, the GMC Terrain is an inappropriate response to eco-collapse. From the lofty vantage of EcoFlight, formative world views are shifted to the longer term, the larger scale, the deeper values of protecting the health of the natural world.

When you see an entire forest laid waste by an insect whose propagation is exponentially doubled by climate change … when you link climate change to carbon output … when you learn that carbon is a byproduct of industrial society, there occurs a dramatic change in the way you view your culture and the role you play in it.

Personal observation becomes a vital educational tool that makes current events undeniable. When sensory experience links to climate change, science is no longer an abstraction. Intelligence and reason dictate a need for change, a correction toward ecological balance.

In our democratic society, we vote with ballots and dollars. Whether we choose a fuel-efficient hybrid or a GMC Terrain is a matter of perspective, of how we see the world and judge our actions. If a bird’s eye view helps our children overcome the myth of normalcy, then we had better line them up for an EcoFlight … as long as we don’t drive them to the airport in a GMC Terrain.

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