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Climate critics get Aspen’s blessing

Steve Benson

The skiing’s going to get mighty sloppy if we don’t change our attitudes about climate change, according to the Aspen Skiing Co. It’s that belief, coupled with other anticipated impacts of climate change, that led the Skico to support the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, which was launched last week. Formed by Stephen Saunders, a former official in the Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration, the organization aims to heighten public awareness about climate change. Saunders said the idea was sparked by the devastating wildfire season in 2002. “I was surprised nobody was connecting the dots to climate,” he said. “We’ve got to get people to realize how vulnerable the quality of life is in Colorado – this affects the place we call home.” Those potential dangers, Saunders added, include more frequent drought, shorter and warmer winters, and increased wildfires. Auden Schendler, Skico’s director of environmental affairs, said the process of educating people on what he considers the realities of climate change has been an uphill battle.”It’s been enormously frustrating. Even the statement on any news program of ‘The global warming debate’ undermines this whole issue,” he said. “You’re not dealing with wacko tree huggers anymore – you’re dealing with scientists.”There is no debate.”Who’s at fault? Dr. Gerry Bell, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center in Washington, D.C., said no solid conclusions have been reached about climate change. “The issue is still open,” he said. Bell said the fundamental argument is not whether climate is changing -it is constantly fluctuating – but whether those changes have been human-induced. “That’s very difficult to show, given the natural climate variability is so strong,” he added. “It’s an ongoing challenge in the science itself.” Bell recently wrote a paper in the Journal of Climate that he said “showed a lot of the aspects are just natural climate variability.” But whether climate change can be attributed to humans or not, Bell said we shouldn’t wait around to find out. “It’s a no brainer, we need to be environmentally conscious and environmentally aware,” he said. “We don’t want to do things where we can [negatively] affect climate.”Debate heating upSince the mid-1990s, the Aspen Skiing Co. has been called a leader in the ski industry, by environmental groups. It was the recipient of the 2004 Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence in the Ski Industry.The company has tried to increase energy efficiency and minimize carbon dioxide emissions through the use of renewable power. Aspen has also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by the year 2010.But, Schendler said, the argument that climate change is just a natural cycle and cannot be attributed to human activities has hamstrung any significant local or global response to the problem.”What we’re dealing with is the same thing people have always dealt with when there’s change in the making,” he said. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has drawn support from a number of groups in addition to the Skico, including: the city of Fort Collins; the Colorado Mountain Club; Denver Water, which supplies water to nearly one-fourth of all Coloradans; the Nature Conservancy of Colorado; New Belgium Brewing Co. – the state’s third largest brewery and the first in the nation to meet all of its electricity needs through wind energy; and Westcliffe Publishers, which publishes photography, nature and trail books, including those by John Fielder.That support may suggest that environmental awareness is growing, Schendler said.”Look at civil rights, you can’t imagine that African-Americans wouldn’t have civil rights,” Schendler said. “But as soon as we had that debate in this country, it was clear what was going to happen. Once it reaches the level of national debate, it’s all over. “I think that’s the case with climate, too,” he added, “and because the science is so strong, it’s going to happen.”


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