Addressing the growing energy crisis is an 11th hour attempt, which has created a sense of urgency among environmental leaders to undo the damage that’s been done and prevent more of it from happening in the future.
That approach is echoed each year when organizers of American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) in Aspen plan the four-day event, which ends today. When local resident Chip Comins held the first-ever AREDAY in 2004, it was a last-minute effort. The event was organized in less than eight weeks, after Comins approached Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud about creating a city-sponsored event that focused on renewable energy. The city offered financial support and two months later, AREDAY held its first event, which was comprised of a one-day expo on the mall.
“When we first started nobody knew what a carbon footprint meant,” Comins said.
Since then, the planet has experienced rapid population growth and the increase of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, making it that much more imperative to change the nation’s approach to energy, Comins said.
In 2006, AREDAY transformed from an expo into a summit after current co-director Sally Ranney brought former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart to speak here. In 2008, AREDAY attracted billionaire Ted Turner, who is a philanthropist in the world of environmental causes. Since his involvement, the conference has made it onto the national circuit of environmental forums, alongside other high profile ones like the Clinton Global Initiative conference in Chicago, said Comins.
AREDAY is a summit held at the Hotel Jerome that features over 100 renewable energy leaders who speak on topics related to the world’s energy crisis. The idea of the conference is to create a forum where members of different sectors of the energy and environmental community can find solutions to the nation’s environmental woes.
This year’s summit featured sessions with Turner, billionaires Tom Steyer and T. Boone Pickens, as well as actress Daryl Hannah and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.
The solution is local
The running theme throughout the four days of keynote speakers, roundtable discussions and panels is that the solution to energy and environmental problems can be solved locally.
A panel discussion held on Thursday titled “Think Global, Act Local” featured Nathan Ratledge, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE); Piper Foster from CORE; Lauren McDonell, the environmental initiatives program manager for the city of Aspen; Holy Cross Electric’s Steve Casey and Alice Hubbard Laird, director of Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER).
Their discussion focused on how through legislation, grants and community willingness the Roaring Fork Valley has become a leader in energy efficiency.
It’s important to think of the choices people can make in their daily lives to be more energy efficient, said Laird, and not get overwhelmed by the end goal.
On Friday night, Steyer echoed that sentiment by emphasizing the need for grassroots efforts to effect change.
“Everyone wants to throw the bomb at D.C.” he said. “But we need to look at it regionally and locally.”
Steyer drew the comparison between the Civil Rights movement and the green energy push, saying that people need to organize locally as they did in the ’60s and ’70s to change the cultural mindset about consumption.
Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Ted Turner, left, jokes with the crowd and fellow panelist Tom Steyer during a Saturday evening program on “The Business of Philanthropy.” Preceding the discussion, Steyer was awarded the “AREDAY Stepping Up to the Plate Award” for his commitment to energy reform.
Comins agreed that one of the summit’s end goals is to have regional and local politics direct the national government toward environmental awareness. He noted that particularly in Aspen, it’s more apparent with all the natural beauty surrounding people that they are in danger of losing it. That fact is one of the reasons why Comins created AREDAY originally.
“I’ve been here for 30 years,” Comins said. “I’ve skied so many times that I realize that this creation is worth saving.”
How green is AREDAY?
Like other conferences that take place in Aspen, AREDAY organizers pride themselves on the intimacy of the event, the accessibility of the speakers and the networking opportunities that arise because of it.
Walking around the Hotel Jerome on Saturday afternoon, Turner wandered in and out of the hotel’s ballroom waiting for the beginning of a session on bridging the gap between popular culture and science, which featured Hannah.
A table was set up in the hallway with a smorgasbord of environmentally informative handouts: flyers advertising green energy products were placed in between educational packets on clean power and atmospheric trust litigation, while an AREDAY attendee feedback form sat to the side.
Pitchers of ice water were spread around the room with compostable, corn-made plastic cups next to them. Above the trash cans were signs saying “All bottles will be recycled.”
Two or three of the speakers attending the summit flew into Aspen on private jets — one of them being Turner, said Ranney. She was hopeful however, that in the next few months Turner would be the first owner of a private jet that runs off biofuels.
AREDAY offset the summit’s carbon footprint by purchasing credits produced from renewable energy, according to Ranney. AREDAY organizers also decided not to offer plastic water bottles to attendees or speakers, and most of the food offered was sourced locally. Also, the shwag bags were made of organic cotton.
As for Ranney, she goes back and forth between her three homes in Aspen, Denver and Argentina, one of which is off the grid. She flies coach, drives a hybrid car and makes an effort to purchase only used clothes.
“You try to do as much as you can,” she said. “But the system isn’t there yet.”
AREDAY differs from other local forums
In cost and attendance, AREDAY stands out from other conferences held locally, like the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival. At around $1,800 a piece, about 200 full passes were sold this year for AREDAY. This year, the Ideas Festival sold about 1,200 full passes at $2,750 for four days.
AREDAY was open to the public and offered locals discounted full pass rates at $400 to encourage laymen to attend, said Comins. While other forums in Aspen attract an older, retired demographic, attendees of AREDAY is a mixed bag of professionals representing nonprofits, NGOs and small businesses.
AREDAY organizers made additional efforts this year to effect change by having the end goal of producing a road map — a list of suggestions and conclusions that have come from the discussions — to be passed on to other conferences and government officials so that they can use it as a guideline.
At the end of the summit, a team will come together to produce the road map, said Ranney.
“And from there we can link with others who are on the same direction,” she said. “So that we can really move policy.”