Marolt: Knowing I will never be an environmentalist

Roger Marolt
Roger This

To not be an environmentalist is not to be a climate-change denier, an ignoramus about science, a planet-hater, a right-wing nut or manifest destiny cheerleader. It is to be modest enough to extract yourself from the state of denial and move to the far-away secluded countryside of truth.

Our existence in this valley of environmental three-card Monty is marked by signs more obvious than the acidic clouds anchored in the skies over thriving steel towns. We look at them every day but don’t see them.

Private jets regularly pass over our mountainsides clear-cut of forests to expose sheets of snow groomed to perfection nightly by smoke-belching tractors, like the hide of a bear is scraped from its carcass to provide exotic floor covering, in ski-in, ski-out mansions that pamper feet tired from a day of wearing ski boots and riding up chairlifts running off electricity produced from burning dirty fuel at places in the “real world” that we came here to get off our minds and consciences.

The remoteness of our town requires that everything we consume be transported hundreds of extra miles to this sanctuary of peace and quiet where we produce exactly nothing. Of course this includes organic fruits and vegetables, yoga mats and 14-pound racing bicycles that, in a town brimming with conveniences, the greatest one is the handiness of selective recognition. Our retail commerce consists of shipping product in, selling it and then our guests taking it back out when they leave. It would be difficult to design a more energy-inefficient route from producer to consumer.

Did you know it is estimated that about 7.9 million pounds of discarded food end up in Pitkin County’s landfill each year? That’s enough food to feed about 1.5 million Americans for a day or a town the size of Aspen for a year. If we can imagine what this quantity of food could do for a third-world nation of starving people and do nothing to change, we are deeply flawed. Let’s not think about it.

The sheer waste of this stuff necessary for sustaining human life that is in short supply around the globe is appalling by itself. To truly be sick to your stomach, though, consider the vast amounts of water, chemicals and petroleum that are used to produce nutritious sustenance that ends up covering our land in enormous piles of waste that includes all the nonrecyclable packaging that it is shipped and luxuriously presented to us in.

We cut miles and miles of trails through the woods to hike, bike and run over. We cheer each time another mile of singletrack is added to the expansive spider web of dirt we’ve weaved over our countryside. Have we ever stopped to consider that 4 miles of trail at 4 feet wide is the equivalent of about 2 acres of land scraped bare? If we do, we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter because we need fresh air and exercise, and then we wage court battles over the removal of nursery-grown aspens in a neighbor’s yard to prove our allegiance to greenery.

We charge 20 cents for paper bags at the grocery stores, but in every other retail outlet in town they are not only free, but encouraged. We have outdoor fire pits that burn clean, natural gas instead of coal. We protest the drilling for gas in the area but couldn’t care less if they do it in North Dakota. We say we are doing what we can, but it is really only doing what we will.

I am not sure how much of this I am for or against. Trust me, I don’t believe I have all the answers — more like none at all. I am an Aspenite living by choice in abundant comfort and with gratuitous recreational and cultural opportunities and either don’t honestly know what to do to responsibly maintain all this that I like very much or am completely ignoring the answer because I am afraid of where the truth might lead me. Perhaps I can’t bear to do what is right, much less what is needed for sustainability. I am a selfish creature trying to pay the mortgage on the price of living in paradise and staying physically fit, not necessarily in that order.

I suspect the environmentalists among us are as fake as the visitors who wear real fur, the local conservationists as oblivious as the drivers of luxury SUVs, all pretending to know what we don’t. The only thing I know with certainty is that I am not an environmentalist and, unfortunately, most likely never will be.

Roger Marolt thinks we are congratulating ourselves for doing what we are willing to do and not doing what we can. Email at


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