New initiatives address climate change
Despite the current chill, local climate experts say the cold temperatures in no way imply that climate change isn’t a burning issue. "Everything we’re seeing is consistent with climate change models," says Alison Gannett, board president of the Office for Resource Efficiency (ORE), a Crested Butte-based organization dedicated to bringing energy efficiency and renewable energy to Gunnison County.
Gannett says global warming will likely generate extreme weather events, including drastic temperature swings, droughts and floods.
Thanks to the concern of climate activists like Gannett and farsighted officials from various local governments, a countywide survey is being conducted to find out exactly what level of carbon emissions are being generated in the county, and from where.
The carbon inventory will assist two major initiatives aimed at addressing climate change in Gunnison County—the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) and Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC). Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison County all joined the CCP initiative and Western State College has joined the PCC initiative.
Moreover, the City of Gunnison and the Town of Crested Butte have signed on to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which is closely aligned with the CCP. And all four governmental entities signed an intergovernmental agreement guaranteeing cooperation in carbon reduction strategies throughout the county.
Cities for Climate Protection is a program designed to assist local governments in adopting policies and implementing quantifiable measures to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and enhance urban livability and sustainability.
The Presidents Climate Commitment is a pledge among colleges and universities to initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible on college campuses.
Both the CCP and the PCC initiatives hope to reduce the carbon emissions of the participating entities by 80 percent by 2050.
In order to get the initiatives started, says Western State College environmental studies professor Dr. John Hausdoerffer, a baseline inventory of carbon dioxide emissions is required. Carbon dioxide is the human-produced greenhouse gas that scientists have concluded is responsible for the drastic warming of earth’s atmosphere. Hausdoerffer, who is also the college’s representative to ORE, says that the emissions analysis is needed to deal with the problem efficiently.
"We don’t want to just be throwing darts," he says.
Gannett agrees. "If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it," she says.
While Hausdoerffer recognizes that the current cold temperatures may seem counterintuitive to the notion of a quickly warming planet, he urges people not to be misled. "Scientists have found that a third of the Arctic icecap has melted in the last ten years," he says. "If we continue to produce CO2 at current levels, we can expect to see an average temperature rise of 11 degrees in the next century."
Hausdoerffer says such a rise in global temperatures will likely have devastating effects. "We’ll see more severe weather events like Category 5 hurricanes," he says.
According to Hausdoerffer, climate models indicate that all the glaciers in the Himalayas may be gone by 2035 if global carbon emissions are left unchecked. "Those glaciers provide water to between one and two billion people," he says.
Locally, Hausdoerffer says, snowpack in the Elk Mountains could see a 43 percent reduction over the next few decades.
Hausdoerffer, along with Western State colleagues including Mark Lung, Dustin Hite and student Jackie Levy, recently finished a detailed analysis of carbon emissions generated by the campus. And in a concurrent effort, ORE board member Steve Lawlor has just finished his analysis of carbon emissions for the entire county.
Lawlor says carbon emission data is collected by calculating total energy expenditures based on electricity and fuel use. He says it’s easier to get accurate data from governmental entities because they tend to record their energy use, but he thinks he can come close to accurately counting private carbon expenditures as well.
Although the final report has yet to be made, Lawlor says he wasn’t surprised by his initial findings. "Buildings are the biggest emitters, followed closely by transportation," he says.
Because of their heating and electricity needs, buildings generate huge amounts of CO2, due in large part to the coal-fired electricity they use. Area vehicle emissions are also high on the list of offenders, according to Lawlor.
Lawlor says transportation would have likely outstripped building in emissions if the inventory had counted the air travel that Gunnison County visitors use to get here. Airplanes are a particularly inefficient mode of travel as far as carbon emissions, according to various studies.
Lung says Western State has already commenced work on mitigating its carbon emissions. "We’re implementing a policy in which all our new buildings are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and we’re upgrading all our appliances to be Energy STAR-rated," he says.
According to Lung, many campuses have made the commitment to PCC, but Western State may be the highest and coldest campus to take part. "We stand in a really unique place as far as carbon reduction," he says.
The next step in reducing carbon emissions, according to Lawlor and Hausdoerffer, is presentation and evaluation of the results of the carbon inventory to the Gunnison County community at large.
Mt. Crested Butte mayor and ORE board member Chris Morgan says the data from the inventory will be presented to the public in early summer. "We’re looking at doing a community-wide energy summit," he says.
Morgan says the summit will be an opportunity for the Gunnison County community to come together to decide how to reduce energy consumption and use energy more wisely.