Vail Daily column: Let’s talk climate action | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Let’s talk climate action

Kim Langmaid
Valley Voices

On Wednesday, as well as Sept. 19 and 22, the public is invited to attend open house sessions and provide input on an emerging climate action plan for the Eagle County community. For the past seven months, a group of 30 stakeholders from local towns, businesses and nonprofits has been gathering to learn about climate change, set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the future and develop proposed solutions for the community to take action. Now it's your turn to share your thoughts, provide feedback and tell us if we're heading the in the right direction.

If we add up the greenhouse gas reductions from all of the stakeholders' proposed community-driven solutions we can reduce our emissions almost 10 percent and save $24 million each year. The Eagle County community is not alone in taking this kind of positive and proactive grassroots approach to climate action. A recent article in The New York Times shared the story of the village of Ashton Hayes, England, where hundreds of residents have banded together over the past 10 years and reduced their community greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent.

The people of Ashton Hayes use clotheslines instead of dryers, install solar panels and geothermal heat pumps, and glaze windows to insulate their homes. Their aim is to become "Britain's first carbon-neutral village" and they're having fun while they're at it. Locally crafted wine and cheese gatherings are the norm for organizing community solutions. No political speeches or guilt tripping is allowed. Innovation and fun are preferred over doom and gloom.

When it comes to our own Eagle County community, we can take a similar approach. Our gatherings might include microbrews and mountain bikes, craft whiskey and locally made skis, or SUP yoga and kombucha tea. The point is, taking action for our climate and our community can help build community relationships, be fun and proactive, all while sparking new solutions and supporting local economic development.

Our mountains, valleys, rivers and lifestyles are at risk and each of us can play an active role in protecting the things we value about our community: our health and well-being and outdoor recreation; our forests, rivers and wildlife. We can get a jump start as leaders in the post carbon economy, supporting green jobs, local entrepreneurs and employees.

Scientists say "the basic operating system of the planet is changing." The effects are visible here in Eagle County. We now have 23 more "frost free days" when it's not cold enough to snow, than we had before the 1980s. Climate scientists predict we'll have an additional 30 frost free days by 2060. This has big implications for our ski and snowboarding conditions, our river runoff, the health of our forests and wildlife, and there are increasing threats from extreme wildfires, droughts and floods.

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Based on data from the 2014 Eagle County Energy Inventory, on a per capital basis the Eagle County community uses 30 percent more energy than the U.S. average. When we do the math, this means that as a community we are spending $243 million on fuel and electricity annually. That is the equivalent of $5,300 per person per year. Maybe we could put that money to better use creating a more resilient community that is prone to flourish in the future when our climate adaptation stakes are much higher.

The group of local climate action plan stakeholders proposes reducing our Eagle County community greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2025. They also suggest we aim for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recommended long-term target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouses gases by 2050.

Some of the stakeholders' suggested actions include: scaling up energy efficiency projects in homes and commercial buildings, engaging more local businesses and schools in sustainability best-practice programs, increasing the use of zero emissions vehicles, and diverting waste from the landfill with more recycling and composting. A summary of the draft plan and all the stakeholder meeting agendas, notes, and presentations can be found at http://www.walkingmountains.org/cap.

Working with the local Eagle County community stakeholders over these past months has been personally inspiring and motivating. This summer, I committed to biking to work more often and have logged almost 1,000 miles commuting on my new electric bicycle. By riding my bike to work most days, I have reduced my carbon footprint by a half-ton, about the size of half of a hot air balloon, and I get to be outside enjoying our beautiful summer, and having fun while I'm at it.

How would you like to take action to protect our community and help us be leaders in the post carbon economy? Please attend one of the open houses and tell us what you think. Open houses will be held 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Brush Creek Pavilion; Monday, Sept. 19 at The Grand View in the Lionshead Welcome Center; and Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Miller Ranch Community Room. Free snacks and refreshments will be provided, Spanish interpretation will be available, and everyone is welcome. To learn more about the climate action plan for the Eagle County community, go to http://www.walking mountains.org/cap, and to RSVP for the open houses or give feedback, email cap@walkingmountains.org.

Kim Langmaid is founder and vice president at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon and serves on the Vail Town Council.