Vail Daily column: Are you climate literate? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Are you climate literate?

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

Director of “Avatar” James Cameron, New York Times bestselling author Thomas Friedman, green philanthropist Ted Turner and energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens will all gather in Aspen to talk climate change and clean energy during the American Renewable Energy Day, AREDAY, a four-day summit starting Thursday.

First reaction? Only in Aspen.

But after speaking with AREDAY founder Chip Comins, the amazing lineup is less about the mountain town’s star attraction and more about what Comins describes as Colorado’s “defacto role” as the nation’s leader in creating an economy based in renewable, clean energy. It’s a success largely attributed to Gov. Bill Ritter’s ambitious legislation that will triple the state’s Renewable Energy Standard to 30 percent by 2020, meaning at least 30 percent of electricity must be derived from renewable resources.

“We’re really on the leading edge in the Unites States, in fact, in Washington D.C., there’s now something referred to as the ‘Colorado Story,'” Comins says.

Comins created AREDAY seven years ago as a way to gather the “doers,” like Gov. Ritter, Ted Turner and T. Boone Pickens, who will lead America and the world from a fossil-fuel based economy to one founded on renewable energy. The event intends to increase America’s literacy on climate issues and solutions.

“We have to get off the coal. The coal is killing us,” Comins says. “The next economy has to be based on taking the carbon out of the atmosphere. Wall street has to be ‘Clean Street.'”

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This year’s AREDAY motto is “From competition to collaboration: Creating a new, clean energy economy at speed and scale.” But the four-day program covers more than just a new economy. It’s all encompassing with 107 expert speakers covering everything from oil spills and ocean systems to food security and women’s role in powering solutions. On Saturday, C-Span will record various panels, including “Putting Wealth To Work in the New Energy Economy,” featuring Ted Turner, T. Boone Pickens and James Cameron, among others. Cameron will also screen his environmental director’s cut of “Avatar.” The Oscar winning film “The Cove” with Louie Psihoyos, Sebastian Copeland’s “Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul” and Michael Nash’s “Climate Refugees” are also part of AREDAY’s environmental film series.

AREDAY will honor Ted Turner as this year’s “Green Leader” for his willingness to put his money where his mouth is, Comins says.

“He is the nation’s largest green philanthropist,” Comins says. “He is the largest land owner in the United States with 2 million acres of land, and he has implemented strategies on the stewardship of his land that are quite extraordinary. Preserving endangered species, managing the land in the most environmentally conscience way and bringing back the buffalo.”

Comins, who is a filmmaker by trade, was inspired to devote most of his life to promoting renewable energy after two key experiences. He was hired to make a documentary for the National Renewable Laboratory about the wind energy resource on the northern Great Plains. Called “Wind Powering Native America,” he learned that there’s enough wind blowing through the northern Great Plains just on tribal lands alone to give our country 1/3 of its energy without burning any coal at all.

“That was it for me,” Comins said.

Then he received an advance copy “Natural Capitalism,” written by Amory Lovins,’ Aspen’s resident genius. After reading it, he realized the world was in trouble and he wanted to help.

“I realized we don’t put into account on a balance sheet the price we pay for the fallout from that carbon build-up in the atmosphere, in terms of health care, in terms of economic problems that it creates. That’s what ‘Natural Capitalism’ talks about,” Comins says.

AREDAY is about helping America transition to a clean-energy economy, but before that can happen, Comins says, the gridlock on climate legislation in Washington, D.C., must release. And, more importantly, Comins says, the American people, in general, must become literate on the science of climate change and the science of clean energy in order to demand change from elected leaders.

He’s hoping AREDAY can help bring America up to speed.

Cassie Pence is married to the superhero of green cleaning Captain Vacuum, AKA Tim Szurgot, and together they own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. Contact her at cassie@organichousekeepers.com.