Fossil fuels threaten skiing in Colorado
Choke in the smoke of distant forest fires and digest the September UN International Panel on Climate Change report, it is clear that we have a warming problem in the West.
The good news is that we have a unique opportunity to tackle this crisis in a way that gets people back to work – but only if Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet use their votes to help pass the bill. budget reconciliation with renewable energies, jobs and infrastructure as a priority.
As a leader in the ski and hiking industry and a researcher studying climate change, we can tell you that Mountain West is the perfect example of how fossil fuel warming is wreaking havoc. But the solution, unlike politics, just shouldn’t be partisan.
Damaged infrastructure is everyone’s problem. Interstate 70 has been closed intermittently for months in Glenwood Canyon due to mud and rock slides in the Grizzly Creek fire burn area. Not only has this been inconvenient for locals, tourists and truckers carrying food and other essentials, but the blow to Colorado’s economy is expected to be astronomical.
Conventional infrastructure bills traditionally fund roads and bridges – but in a world undergoing climate change, highways warp in the heat and are washed away by flooding. We need a new, more resilient approach to climate change integrated into the projects themselves.
The changes we are seeing in the climate are also rendering conventional Western environmentalism – often led by conservatives – obsolete. For more than a century, it was enough to create wilderness and monuments to protect lakes and rivers. These parks and waterways have been the source of a robust regional economy.
But iconic places are now under threat. Last year, wildfires scorched the southwest side of Rocky Mountain National Park and threatened it from the north. Glacier National Park recently had to evacuate visitors and Yosemite burns down every year. It is no longer enough to put aside land and water, because a warmer world makes our landscapes and our economies unrecognizable.
Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry depends on optimal climate and weather conditions to generate $ 37 billion and over half a million jobs in the state. Colorado’s 32 winter resorts – with some of the best ski and snowboard trails in the world – depend on stopping warming that decreases snowfall, shortens the season and threatens mountain communities with wildfires and flooding. Likewise, rafters, fishing / hunting guides and other outfitters see a stark truth: In a warmer world, it takes more rain and snow just to stay steady. And we don’t get it.
A truly strong climate finance agenda would not only protect our outdoor economies, but also meet the growing challenges of equity and job security. Soaring house prices over the past decade have relegated many people to neighborhoods close to heavy industry and highways. Breathing dirty air has led to an increase in asthma cases among children of color and entire families, in some places drinking water from decrepit lead pipes. And while workers in the coal, oil and gas industries are happy with jobs, they have been at the mercy of as many cycles of recession as they have benefited from booms.
A bill that addresses all of these issues should include:
- Power grid improvements supporting wind and solar farms, and jobs for laid-off miners
- Clean and resilient energy storage – hydraulic pumps, battery banks, maybe even wind-to-hydrogen
- Green energy development that leverages the technical skills of workers in the fossil fuel industry
- Electric buses and high-speed trains to reduce emissions, so prevent 4,200 deaths across the country and save $ 100 billion in health damage every year
- A Civilian Climate Corps – similar to the beloved Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s – to provide a new generation affected by climate change with living wages and benefits
- Replacing the country’s lead pipes to ensure a climate-threatened water supply is not as toxic
For every dollar we invest, we protect the heritage outside of the West, update our infrastructure, create well-paying jobs, and clean our air and water. Land conservatives, outdoor enthusiasts, business owners, road warriors, tourists, families – and frankly, rock-ribbed conservatives too – should want to join the chorus on a budget deal. which responds to the crisis of our time. We need every penny of the proposed $ 3.5 trillion investment.
We are counting on Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper to champion the climate change initiatives in the budget reconciliation bill, and hope other Western senators – especially Republicans – will follow suit. An ambitious and hopeful bill will help us all better prepare for the hotter and more chaotic future that has already arrived.
Auden Schendler, of Basalt, is the senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company and author of “Getting Green Done”. Bob Wilson, of Syracuse, NY, is Associate Professor of Geography and Environment at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.