The hypocrisy of Aspen
A guest opinion in last weeks Aspen Times (A Recipe for Foreign Oil Dependence Jan. 8) charged that Aspen is hypocritical in its environmental stance against regional energy development because local energy appetites are conspicuous and excessive.Aspen would like to shrug it off, but the facts are irrefutable. Aspen has long been advocating public lands conservation while being profligate with resources beneath those public lands. In effect, we have been exporting the negative impacts from our resource waste, and those impacts are now coming home to roost.Waste is the buzzword because there is no other word to describe huge, opulent, empty homes guzzling energy, convoys of fuel-hungry SUVs and a fleet of luxurious private jets. How can Aspens hard-working conservation organizations effectively lobby against gas and oil development when Aspen thrives and profits from unbridled consumption of those very resources?In the Times editorial, Greg Schnacke, an oil and gas industry insider, rails on Aspen for impeding energy development on the Roan Plateau. Such opposition, he says, increases U.S. dependence on foreign oil and drives up energy prices for those who cannot afford second homes in Aspen. Schnacke argues that Aspen should support homegrown energy development to fuel its hefty appetites and share the costs of weaning America off oil-rich countries run by anti-American dictators.Schnacke demands accountability for Aspen and other resort towns where there is often a glaring dichotomy between luxury resource consumption and regional land conservation agendas. Conservation of pristine public lands is championed in Aspen, he says, but where is the commensurate, underlying ethic of environmental responsibility? It doesnt take a detective to uncover the squandering of resources in Aspen. Its all transparent, and its become legend. Thats why Schnacke ridicules Aspen mayor Mick Ireland for his opposition to gas and oil drilling on the Roan.Ireland speaks for his constituents and for his conscience; thats his job as mayor. In defense of Aspen, the city has long been a leader in energy conservation, alternative energy sources, wilderness preservation and environmental quality. The wasteful Aspen lifestyle that covers the mountainsides with conspicuous consumption is a detriment to those efforts.It is only now, as we encounter global climate change and drill rigs in our backyard, that the entire community is held culpable and that moral judgments are made against those who reap inordinate shares of the global commons. Industrial civilization is facing real, physical limits, which are provoking a day of reckoning.Aspens dichotomy parallels a dichotomy between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Aspen gorges on natural resources and objects to regional energy development, while the U.S. gobbles the lions share of world energy while advocating carbon limits for the developing world. The incongruities are blatant.In casting his net over Aspen, however, Schnacke impugns his own consumer base, namely the huge energy customers whose princely lifestyles enrich the energy companies he champions. Ironically, beneficiaries of the oil and gas industry, some of whom rank among Aspens egregious energy gulpers, nonetheless cherish the pristine landscapes Schnackes consort would gladly ransack.It should be known that Schnacke, a former head of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, is neck deep in the energy industry. His current affiliation, Americans for American Energy, is an incarnation of the wise use ideology of populist anti-environmentalism. According to its website, the AAE is unleashing the power of American patriotism to support American energy and economic security. Warning! When patriotism is linked to a profit-driven, extractive industry, there is cause for skepticism. Schnacke is eager to develop local energy resources, but its my guess that the motives are not egalitarian or altruistic, or even security based. The AAE is hungry for profitable access to sensitive public lands, and it is using a moralistic lever to get there. Aspen unintentionally supports this effort by consuming a disproportionate amount of energy per capita and refusing to pay the cost Schnacke and his consortium think is warranted. Hypocrisy stands on both sides of this debate.Paul Andersens column appears Mondays.
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