Your April Fools’ edition parodied many of the peculiarities of Aspen and its downvalley environs in a way that was generally humorous. But your editorial regarding the hypocrisy of opposing natural gas extraction in this area, while boasting about protecting the environment by converting buses to be powered by natural gas, was too accurate an analysis of a debilitating political problem to be funny.
Unfortunately, the local discussion of issues that involve trade-offs between environmental preservation and economic development mirrors national debates, in that it tends to be dominated by two varieties of extreme ideologues.
On the one hand, we have preservationist ideologues who oppose practically any further development of any land. They make no distinction, for example, between areas of truly extraordinary natural value such as the Maroon Bells Wilderness, and nondescript expanses of lightly developed dry land such as the Thompson Divide that cover hundreds of millions of acres throughout the West.
With regard to energy development, preservationists attempt to deny the reality that natural gas development done with appropriate regulatory oversight has environmental impacts that are minor in comparison to the existing alternatives. Natural gas is an economical intermediate-term replacement for coal and oil, which are much greater threats to environmental quality and national security.
Furthermore, natural gas is already a critical resource in that about two-thirds of Americans of all socioeconomic groups rely on it for heating their homes and workplaces. Although “renewable” energy is a worthwhile long-term goal, it will only become a significant part of the national energy supply in conjunction with massive conservation measures that will take many decades to implement. In particular, that will involve extensive reconstruction of the building stock to achieve super-insulation, and replacement of cars and trucks with models that are smaller and more energy-efficient. And, by the way, silly “greenwashing” measures such as banning plastic bags will only diminish public support for substantive environmental policies.
At the other extreme, we have people who regard rampant consumption of energy and other resources as the test of every “real American,” and a driver of economic growth that will never diminish if only we “drill, baby, drill” forever. These folks are overtly represented by our tea party Congressman, Scott Tipton. Despite his insensitivity to environmental values, at least he is not as hypocritical as the owners of luxury Aspen properties who practice in-your-face conspicuous consumption while preaching environmental preservation (particularly on lands close to their own properties).
What these disciples of unregulated resource exploitation have in common is their failure to understand that moderation in the exploitation of limited natural resources is necessary to sustain the prosperity that they enjoy, and equally necessary to enhance and sustain other people’s quality of life.
The solution to extremism is a combination of ideological balance and understanding of basic principles of natural science and economics. Sadly, the people who have these qualities do not very often stand up in public to make specific proposals for balancing economic development with environmental quality, in a way that benefits the majority of Americans without undue harm to the minority.
Carl Ted Stude