Saving the snow
December 22, 2007
In 1859, 600 miles separated the nearest urban center ” Kansas City ” from the silver and gold mines of Colorado. Yet across this minimally charted landscape of violent weather, primitive roads, and unpredictable food supply, tens of thousands came, pursuing a vision of betterment that has become a Colorado tradition.
In 1947, after the gold and silver mines were mostly tapped out, soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division came to Colorado to create some of the country’s first and finest ski resorts. They popularized a sport that became synonymous with Colorado and effectively transitioned the region from an extractive to an attractive economy. The Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke saw the Colorado mountains as a way of “lifting us out of our usual selves.”
That mentality has served us well, and now we need it more than ever. We are confronted with greater difficulties even than those faced by the pioneers and a sense that business as usual might not offer the best hope. The challenge of climate change threatens our very identity as a state as well as our precious water supplies. Energy dependency weakens national security, and polluting transportation has harmed Denver’s viewsheds and air quality. Colorado is at a new turning point. We must somehow achieve what writer Wallace Stegner called “Some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.” Seventeen years ago he predicted that we Westerners “would arrive at a degree of stability and a reasonably sustainable economy based on resources that they will know how to cherish and renew.” Now, Colorado is moving in that direction.
On Monday, Nov. 5, Governor Ritter unveiled an ambitious climate action plan that is a continuation of Colorado’s tradition as a place of renewal and hope. Recognizing that wind power, energy efficiency, and biofuels are the new gold and silver; the plan asks utilities to increase renewable energy production to not only clean our air and protect our climate, but also to create jobs here in Colorado. The plan calls for increased vehicle efficiency and asks for federal investment in renewable energy technologies and industries, thereby lowering electricity bills while bringing clean jobs to the mountains. It puts forth a first of its kind carbon capture and sequestration program for agriculture, once again demonstrating Colorado’s ingenuity and leadership.
Without question, the Colorado ski industry holds an important place amongst the many sectors of our economy striving to understand and adapt to climate change. Colorado’s unique environment stands at the foundation of the ski industry, and we have assumed a leadership role in protecting it. From the very beginnings of the skiing era in Colorado, ski town pioneers coming to work in the high country fostered a sense of unity with their environment. It is our duty and responsibility as leaders to continue to conduct business in their tradition. The ski industry’s key assets are threatened by climate change: our mountains and our snow. Time is not on our side. Therefore, we endeavor to become a part of the solution and we encourage all Colorado businesses and citizens to join us in finding ways to minimize our impact on global warming.
Governor Ritter’s plan is not just a list of goals and targets, but a uniquely Western vision ” a Colorado vision. It is what Stegner called “a way of looking at the world and humanity’s place in it.” We Coloradans ” fifth generation ranchers and starry-eyed tech industry newcomers alike ” should align behind this vision to make it live. It is a roadmap to a bright future in which a vibrant economy and a healthy environment are inextricably linked. It is the vision this place has always promised us, based in the welcome reality of who we are.
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