Mountain News 

Aspen begins sorting out green house taxes

ASPEN, Colo. — Going where few other communities have dared go before, Aspen last year set out on an enterprise called the Canary Initiative. The project accepts the theory of global warming and asserts that local communities – in the face of denial by the Bush administration – must begin addressing their own impacts.

The first step in addressing impacts is to document them. That was done in a study that found that Aspen residents were responsible for double the per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases of U.S. residents. The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emission.

Some fault the study as too filled with liberal guilt. To wit, the study includes both the comings and goings of tourists, most of whom travel by plane. Critics say that Aspen should, for example, take responsibility for only one-half of the round-trip made by a visitor from Chicago or by a resident going to Hawaii. And at least one Aspen city councilman argues that Aspen should take responsibility for essentially none of the travel of its visitors in this model of cause-and-effect.

Yet, the thrust of the plan is to take more responsibility. Drawing on work previously done in Portland, Ore., architects of the Canary Initiative have now drawn up a plan that essentially creates a tax on burning of carbon – something that many observers believe the United States will be forced to adopt in the next decade.

The Aspen Times reports that the city council didn’t flinch when presented the rough-draft action plan. Higher annual registration fees for inefficient vehicles is among the hundreds of ideas. Another one: charging for electricity based on the efficiency of buildings, not just consumption. Yet another: a surcharge to tourist visits, to account for the effects of their flights, or allow them to buy energy credits.

Meanwhile, a new report issued by students from Colorado College, located in Colorado Springs, uses previously assembled data to predict far less snow by April 1 in ski towns. By late in the 21 st century, say the students, Taos will have 89 per cent less snow, Alta and Snowbird 84 per cent less, Park City 61 per cent, and Vail 57 per cent. Sun Valley is projected to have 51 per cent less snow, Colorado’s Summit County resorts 50 per cent, Aspen-area resorts 43 per cent, and Jackson Hole 26 per cent.

The general theory of global warming predicts shorter, warmer winters as the result of accumulating greenhouse gases.

But what good are these models? Only two years ago, at least some climate scientists said that good modeling for micro-areas would not be delivered for a decade. Pointedly, no scientists were quoted in the flurry of stories about the Colorado College report. However, both The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily consulted Auden Schendler, the environmental manager for the Aspen Skiing Co., who said he’s confident of the projections.

Schendler argues that the ski industry’s greatest role will be as a lobbyist on the national stage. "We can be very powerful when the Western recreation industry goes to Washington and says ‘We’re concerned about this.’" He told the Vail Daily that emissions must be cut 50 to 90 per cent by 2100.

Schendler was sharply critical of the Bush administration. "Bush will go down in history as having missed the greatest opportunity of his generation," he said. "He thought it was Iraq, but it was climate."

Pat O’Donnell, CEO of the Aspen Skiing Co., pointed out that shorter ski seasons makes skiing operations unprofitable. "It takes us 100 days to break even," he said. "Any profit we make is contingent on March."

Meanwhile, in Canada, the federal government has backed away from its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. In a way, that’s no surprise. Very few of the signatory countries have followed through on their commitment to contain the growth of greenhouse gases, let alone ratchet them down. The United States didn’t ratify the treaty, and the world’s fastest-growing contributors of greenhouse gases, China and India, were exempted.

Still, in a recent lecture in Vancouver, renowned scientist Tim Flannery urged people to keep the heat on politicians. He estimates that we may have as few as five years, or as many as 10, to turn the tide on emission.


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