Mountain News: Close the door to keep the heat in 

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ASPEN, Colo. — Merchants in Aspen, and many other places, have a theory, and it's one supported by considerable evidence. Leave the doors open, they have found, and people more readily walk in.

That's well and good when the temperature outside is 22 Celcius, but what about when it's -3 outside? In effect, they're heating up the great outdoors.

And if you're burning fossil fuels to create heat that you release through the front door, you may be heating the great outdoors two-fold. Most scientists agree we're starting to warm the planet through our emissions of greenhouse gases, most of which are caused by burning of fossil fuels.

But just how much heat is lost? And how well can air curtains, such as are commonly employed at large grocery stores in the United States, stem that loss?

The answers aren't yet in, but the conversation — and research — has started in Aspen, where city officials are bent on making good on vows of reducing local impacts to atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse popularity rising

BANFF, Alberta — Greenhouses are going up in ski towns. In Banff, the municipal government has dedicated a portion of a roof-top parking garage for erection of a greenhouse. One already exists, and it has been such a hit that the Banff Greenhouse Gardening Society thought a second enclosure, which costs $35,000, would be good, explains the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The society members justify the green house by explaining that it could "further enhance the opportunities for growing organic local produce, strengthen interaction amongst community members, and increase knowledge around food security and gardening."

In Jackson, Wyo., a greenhouse has been in the works. This one would also be in association with a parking garage, but it's still in the study stage. A local group wants to build a vertical greenhouse on the 28-foot-by-150-foot parcel immediately south of the parking garage. Again, local food production is a goal, as is education about sustainable food and renewable energy.

Paleoecologist charts climate change

JACKSON, Wyo. — If the 1930s were also hot, last year was one for the record books in large portions of the West. But more important is how this fits in with 30 years of steady heating, says Bryan Shuman, an associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Wyoming.

The current warming, he tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide, in advance of a lecture there, is comparable to that which occurred when the last ice age ended abruptly 11,000 years ago. But unlike that time, change in the sun's radiation and the Earth's orbit do not explain the current warming. The only probable explanation is the fossil fuels being burned, sending heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Much of that carbon comes from underground in Wyoming, particularly from coal.

"We really are experiencing meaningful change," he told the newspaper. "It's impossible to explain how this state became warmer without saying carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases played a part in the warming."

Shuman runs a paleoclimate and paleoecology lab, which means he and his students examine past climates and the vegetation and animals that inhabited those times.

On his website, Shuman explains that examination of the past shows that Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states have historically experienced extended periods of drought.

Tree-ring data from the Colorado River Basin has revealed extended periods of drought, lasting several decades, 1,000 years ago. But by studying the evidence of how lakes in the mountain headwaters have changed, he and his students believe that dry periods of the deeper past exceeded the severity of these megadroughts. Since the glaciers receded, dry periods have persisted for centuries, even millennia.

Nor are these small changes. In the mountains along the Colorado-Wyoming border, Shuman found evidence that lakes have dropped 30 per cent or more during the last 4,500 years.

In other words, what we think of as average won't necessarily stay that way. The climate is usually on the move, and this time we're juicing the change with a double latte of greenhouse gases.

forest fires not always bad

KETCHUM, Idaho — Forest fires in the West have been getting bigger and bigger, with no end in sight. Experts attribute the fires to several causes, including a century of fire suppression, warming temperatures, and substantial drought that make the forests more vulnerable to bark beetles.

Following a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, which pins blame on the changing climate, the Idaho Mountain Express talked with a resident in Ketchum who has a background in forest management.

"What we have seen across the West is almost a 100-year trend," said Dani Mazzotta, who is with the Idaho Conservation League.

"We have been suppressing these fires around towns and communities, and we are seeing the repercussions," she says. Fire is a healthy part of a forest's lifecycle, but the fires in Idaho this past summer were longer and more intense than would have occurred without the heavy fuel loads from beetle-killed trees.

Drilling ad aimed at White House skiers

ASPEN, Colo. — It was Presidents' Day Weekend in a special way at Aspen and Snowmass.

Michelle Obama, wife of the U.S. president, and Vice President Joe Biden were both there to frolic in what has been, in the context of the last two years, uncommonly good snow.

Pitkin County commissioners saw an opportunity. An area of the county about 48kms west of Aspen called Thompson Creek has deposits of natural gas. Locals have vehemently maintained that the area is far too nice to be marred by rigs, and the mess that drillers, even when on best behavior, tend to leave behind.

With that in mind, the county government bought full-page advertisements in both of the local daily newspapers, reports The Aspen Times.

"We appreciate just how important oil and gas development are to America's economy and national security. But there are right places to drill and wrong places to drill. No one would, for example, seriously suggest erecting drill rigs in Central Park," the message said. "We see no exaggeration in saying that Colorado's mountain country is America's Central Park — or in saying that drilling here would be similarly destructive to our internationally-famous tourist economy."

Do they honestly think Obama or Biden would read the ad? Probably not, a county commissioner told the Times, but maybe their entourage members would.

Pam Houston dispenses advice

KETCHUM, Idaho — Pam Houston a few decades ago lived in the Colorado mountain town of Fraser, which sits cheek by jowl with Winter Park, and washed dishes for a living. That was before "Cowboys are My Weakness" and a bunch of other books, the most recent of which is "Contents May Have Shifted."

In advance of a visit to Ketchum, she was asked by the Idaho Mountain Express what it means for a writer to have a book out in paperback.

"For me it means that instead of going to the cities my publisher sent me to on the hardcover tour, I get to go to the cities where my real fans live, like Ketchum and Telluride and Juneau," she said. "Which usually means I get to bring my dog."

Houston splits her time between her ranch near Creede, in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and California, where she teaches writing at the Davis campus. She tells the Mountain Express that a writer — whether a memoirist, a novelist, or a poet or a short-story writer — needs to have a natural affinity and "some serious training in working with the language."

"Having a story is only one part of the equation, and I would argue the much smaller part, or I would at least argue that we all have a story," she says.

"Knowing how to make that story beautiful and compelling on the page, knowing how to shape it into something others can have access to, is far more important than the story itself."

Schools get lift to megabit highway

GRANBY, Colo. — Bit by bit, the more remote mountain valleys of Colorado are joining the information highway. Grand County, which includes Winter Park, Grand Lake and a bunch of other small towns, will soon get broadband. The local school districts will be the first to benefit.

School officials tell the Sky-Hi News that the new broadband network will deliver capacity for 300 megabits at the same price as was previously charged for 1.5 megabits. In other words, this is a much wider information highway.

The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus funds that you have heard so much about.

Equality State kills equality proposal

JACKSON, Wyo. — Wyoming calls itself the Equality State because, in 1869, while still a territory, it approved the first law in U.S. history explicitly granting women the right to vote.

By the end of the 19th century, says Wikipedia, Idaho, Colorado and Utah had followed.

Now comes a movement in the Wyoming legislature that would extend rights to gay people, although it very carefully side-steps using the word gay, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The proposed bill would have extended full legal rights to "domestic partnerships."

"It is not a gay marriage bill," Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, a Republican from Jackson, told the newspaper. "It simply gives two people the right to enter into a contract that affords them certain rights and privileges." She and other backers said the bill would help in situations involving heterosexual relationships. "It could be any two people."

Nonetheless, the Wyoming House of Representatives killed it. "We know this is about same-sex and civil unions no matter how it's sugarcoated," said Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican from Rock Springs.

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