Roger Marolt: The paradox of protecting our winters by skiing less
It’s like the doctor told us we are severely overweight and need to lose a bunch of weight — or else. So, we switch to sugarless gum and light beer. We’re strict and serious about these changes. Because the consequences are so high, we even start to peel the skin off our chicken breasts before slathering them with barbecue sauce to make up for the bland taste. We feel good about ourselves. The discipline bolsters our self-esteem; even still we feel weak at times. We try a chocolate sundae as a small reward to bolster our resolve. It works! We make it a nightly ritual for good measure.
We just stepped onto the scale.
As reported in The Washington Post by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, new research by the independent research firm Rhodium Group indicates that carbon dioxide emissions in the United States rose 3.4 percent in 2018. Bummer. We can’t blame it on population growth, either. The head count of our country grew at only about seven-tenths of 1 percent.
We added another layer of greenhouse gas fat to our atmospheric belly last year and its love handles are lopping over our equatorial belt. This happened despite efforts to eliminate plastic shopping bags, drinking straws and incandescent light bulbs from our diet of energy consumption. We’re driving electric cars. We’re heating and cooling our homes and businesses more efficiently than ever. I have a pair of shoes made from recycled garbage!
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Obviously, things deep fried in crude oil are still sneaking into our diet. We need to start reading labels more closely.
I did this and didn’t like what I learned. I tried digesting some information by writing about it in my Snowmass Sun column Wednesday and it gave me gas. I fear that I might be reality-intolerant.
I did some math using numbers published by Aspen Skiing Co. about its own annual carbon emissions and skier-day counts. It turns out that every single skier on our four local mountains, including you and me, burns the equivalent of a gallon and a half of gasoline every day we ski. That blows me away! It means that a day of skiing for one person is about as damaging to our planet as is a daily commute from Basalt in a single-occupant SUV.
Now I must tell you another short story: My father was diagnosed with a bad ticker. It was so bad, in fact, that his doctors told him he couldn’t ski anymore. He said, to hell with that and kept right on cranking his daily turns. Granted, he continued to do it for another 30 years after the diagnosis, but he did eventually die while skiing on a beautiful bluebird powder day in Argentina.
I am like my dad in many ways, not least of which is a shared passion for skiing. I am not giving it up, no matter what the numbers indicate about its contribution to the demise of the planet. I can’t stop living my life. I’ll take my chances. It’s invigorating to live as a rebel.
Yet, I see the rub here. My dad’s choice to keep skiing, despite the dire prognosis of its effect on his heart, endangered nobody but himself. Had he thought it might pose a threat to his grandchildren, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have given it up in a heartbeat. My stand here is not as noble as his. I fully understand that my decision to keep skiing will harm others, some related to me. I am obstinate, not oblivious.
That’s not to say I can’t rationalize it. Skico is going to run the lifts and groom the trails no matter what I do, so whether I ski or not doesn’t really matter. However, if I take the macro view and believe in the inviolable laws of supply and demand, I know that, if we all cut back on skiing, eventually the ski industry would have to adapt, running the lifts slower, grooming less often and blowing smaller heaps of artificial snow. They would conserve more.
As I write these words, I can’t get a nagging thought out of my head — who is worse: The person who denies that climate change is happening and goes about his life as usual, or the one who fully understands he is damaging the very air that he takes into his lungs and still refuses to give up the luxuries in life that are saturating that air with poison?
It is certainly something to humbly ponder as I try to catch my breath at the bottom of Ridge of Bell, looking up at the thin snow cover.
Roger Marolt sees environmental irony in discouraging people from driving to work while encouraging them to go skiing on their lunch break. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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