Mountain News: And the winner of the Oscar is... Telluride 

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TELLURIDE, Colo. — Surely, it can't be an accident or mere coincidence that five of the last six Best Picture winners had their world premieres at the Telluride Film Festival, including, of course, this year's winner, 12 Years a Slave.

So says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch. He observes that Telluride's run of Oscar glory began with Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, followed by The King's Speech (2010), The Artist (2011), Argo (2012) and now 12 Years a Slave.

Gravity, another film premiered at Telluride last summer, also scored big this year, giving the two films nine of 24 major awards.

Cagin says that Telluride's biggest rivals in the film festival business are Toronto and Venice, and he thinks Telluride's star is rising because, most fundamentally, success begets success. "If the most important role for a festival, from the industry perspective, is to create buzz for serious films that might have difficulty attracting an audience, Telluride has proven it can deliver," he says. "The Telluride audience is famously adventurous and willing to give everything on the program a fair viewing."

Alo, he says, filmmakers love Telluride.

And who wouldn't, on Labour Day weekend, when it's still hot in low-land cities, but crisp and invigorating in Telluride and always as intimate as a large living room.

Revelstoke adventurer aims for sky-high goal

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — Greg Hill told the Revelstoke Times Review that his 2010 goal was more audacious. Then, he set out to climb two million vertical feet in one year, and he succeeded.

The goal for March is less sweeping, but will nonetheless take all he has. He wants to ski 100-vertical kilometres, or 62 miles. The skiing is not the hard part. Rather, the real work is in climbing of his own will power. He's not just climbing up groomed ski trails. He's climbing various peaks in the Selkirks and Monashees. He says he won't repeat the same mountain during the month.

Can parks help kids reconnect with nature?

BANFF, Alta. — In a 2005 book called "Last Child in the Woods," the author Richard Louv made the argument that human beings, especially children, are spending far too little time outdoors. That argument, echoed in subsequent books by Louv, has gained broad traction, including in Canada.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports a joint statement of provincial and federal officials after a recent meeting in Toronto. The officials noted a rapidly changing relationship with the natural world in just the span of a generation.

"We have gone from being a rural to being an urban country: 80 per cent of us live in cities and average 90 per cent of our time indoors," said Leona Aglukkaq, the minister responsible for Parks Canada.

"We have also become a sedentary society. Our children average less than three hours of active play per week compared with eight hours per day in front of a screen.

"Connecting Canadians with Nature" is a research-based report that provides evidence that connecting with nature nurtures childhood development by strengthening core skills like problem solving.

The statement said that the officials are committed to innovate, diversify and adapt Canada's parks to meet the changing needs of families.

Polls show shifts in warming views

AVON, Colo. – The recession caused a pivot in attitudes about global warming and environmental priorities altogether, according to a presentation at the Vail Global Energy Forum.

Alan Murray, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who now heads the Pew Research Center, said that polling showed 90 per cent of Americans supported stricter environmental laws and regulation in 1992. But asked the same question in 2012, just 74 per cent answered in the affirmative.

Among Democrats, 93 per cent report support, said Murray, but Republican support swooned from 86 to 57 per cent during that two-decade span.

But as for priorities? Global warming wasn't a high priority among Republicans before the recession, and it's dropped since then. Overall, among Americans, it ranks near last, 19th of 20 priorities, according to the Pew polling.

That's a big shift from 2007, noted Murray, when both the presidential candidates — Barack Obama and John McCain — said that global warming is something that must be addressed.

Now, 67 per cent of Americans see solid evidence of warming. But 26 per cent said they see none. Among Tea Party-influenced Republicans, 70 per cent say they see no solid evidence.

California's drought in the big, big picture

TAHOE BASIN, Calif. — California has had it rough. Last year less rain fell than in any year since it became a state in 1850. And while snowfall in the Sierra Nevada is usually measured by metres, not centimetres, winter this year got off to such a slow start that not all the ski trails in the Tahoe resorts were opened until last week. Yes, the first week of March.

Guess what? It could get worse. The San Jose Mercury News says researchers have used tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence to document multiple droughts during the last 1,000 years that have lasted 10 or 20 years in a row. That compares with just three years in the current drought.

Among the droughty periods was one that lasted 240 years, and another that lasted 40 years.

"We continue to run California as if the longest drought we are ever going to encounter is about seven years," said Scott Stine a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay. "We're living in a dream world."

A sharper definition to the story is presented by Martin Hoerling, a meteorologist specializing in climate science at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. In a piece published in the New York Times, Hoerling makes several points.

The current drought in California, he says, "resembles the droughts that afflicted the state in 1976 and 1977. Those years were at least as dry as the last two years have been for the state as a whole." And studying records to 1895, he says, no clear trend toward either wetter or drier conditions has been observed.

Hoerling also warns against blaming global warming for this drought. "At present, the scientific evidence does not support an argument that the drought here is appreciably linked to human-induced climate change."

He cites a 2013 report by the International Panel on Climate Change: "Recent long-term droughts in western North American cannot definitely be shown to lie outside the very large envelope of natural precipitation variability in this region, particularly given new evidence of the history of high-magnitude natural drought and pluvial episodes suggested by paleoclimatic reconstructions."

It's natural to wonder about current droughts given the planet's gradual warming due to the rampant burning of fossil fuels, says Hoerling. And it's also notable that demand for water in California has increased dramatically, calling into question the adequacy of the current system of reservoirs and other hydraulic infrastructure in the West in times of drought, whatever the cause.

93-year-old statesman wows 'em

AVON, Colo. — The third annual Vail Global Energy Forum was held in early March, and if the conference doesn't quite live up to the name global, it has a good start. Stanford University is the key partner in the event, held at Beaver Creek's Vilar Center.

But while Stanford sends plenty of very smart people, and governors and senators have spoken, the star each year somehow seems to be George Schultz, who is now 93. He teeters across the stage and his voice does not carry well. But people listen intently to his every word, because he puts full chapters into each carefully spoken sentence.

Schultz had an illustrious career in public affairs. He is old enough to have been in World War II, serving as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps. Then, after teaching economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he took his first leave of absence in 1955 to serve as the staff economist in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Later, he served in cabinet-level positions as secretaries of labour, treasury and state under presidents Nixon through Reagan.

If a Republican, Schultz is of the older-school of moderation. Even Mitt Romney, who is clearly smart, felt forced to poo-poo global warming as a fringe theory in order to gain the support of the Republican base. Schultz takes global warming as a sober threat to U.S. security and advocates a hasty path to reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Now honourary chairman of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Schultz this year offered a celebratory tone. "We can breathe a sigh of relief," he said while pointing to the now bounteous U.S. sources of hydrocarbons, both natural gas and oil.

Schultz said that energy must be viewed through the three prisms of economy, security and the environment. On at least two of those prisms, the United States is well situated, perhaps better than it ever has been, at least in recent times.

With the United States expected to move ahead of Saudi Arabia in oil production within the next few years, and with energy-rich Canada as a key U.S. ally, the United States needs to reassert leadership in the world.

"It's a crummy world, and we're part of it," he said. "If we say we will do something, we will. We are a big part of the world, whether we like it or not."

But is it a time to return to big cars, bigger houses, and big power plants? No, that's not what he was saying.

Schultz worries about centralized power. He pointed to precision disabling of a major power substation near San Francisco by sharpshooters last year. The saboteurs were not apprehended, nor was their motive discerned. It does expose the vulnerability of the U.S. energy infrastructure, which, if disrupted, would cause economic havoc.

That alone, he said, should serve as a warning that more energy should be produced close to where it is consumed.

And then he also talked about climate change. While Joe Sixpack may not buy it, the effects of accumulating greenhouse gases are becoming evident. He cited the rapid deterioration of the Arctic sea ice.

"Global warming is a reality today, and it is going to become more so," he said. "We need to be paying a lot more attention, because in the end, if we talk about security... global warming is very disruptive."

Lionshead now looks more like a kitty-cat

MINTURN, Colo. — If you've skied at Vail, you've probably skied at Lionshead, the westerly part of the mountain. It's named for a rock formation in nearby Minturn, a piece of sandstone with some resemblance to the visage of an African lion.

But the rock formation looks less like a lion now. The Vail Daily reports that a nine-metre section of the boulder broke off, tumbled down the hillside and came to rest on railroad tracks adjoining the Eagle River.

Nobody was hurt, but it did lead to speculation about the rate of geological processes. Local resident Judy Trujillo said she had recently noticed a large crack in the face.

"My husband and I were talking about when we thought it would break, and I said, 'Probably not in our lifetime.'"

Now, she wonders when the next rock will fall.

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