Basalt

The town of Basalt made a bold statement Tuesday evening when the town council unanimously approved a resolution declaring a climate emergency while supporting regional collaboration and emergency mobilization “to restore a safe climate.” 

The resolution makes Basalt the fourth government in Colorado to declare climate change an emergency, joining the city of Boulder, Boulder County and the city of Fort Collins. 

The four entities are among 27 — including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City — that have made the declaration in the U.S., but that’s just a paltry percentage of the 966 local governments in 18 countries that have declared a climate emergency, according to The Climate Mobilization, an organization dedicated to making governments take action on climate change.

The numbers for the U.S. look even worse when one realizes that 16 of the 27 signatories are in California. In fact, only 10 states are represented. For comparison’s sake, eight of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories are home to more than 100 local governments that have made the emergency declaration.

“It’s kind of telling that the largest carbon emitter on the planet is so far behind,” said Basalt councilmember Katie Schwoerer, who is the finance and operations director for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and helped spearhead the drive to have Basalt declare a climate emergency. “We must, must take significant action so we can create a planet where our children and grandchildren and all living things have a chance. Our window is closing, and we must make this first and foremost.”

One can debate the severity of the emergency, but it’s hard to argue with the goals of the declared cities and towns. Many local governments — not just those in emergency mode — have upped their efforts to go green. Earlier this summer, Glenwood Springs became the seventh city in the U.S. (Aspen was the third) to move to 100 percent renewable energy.

Since adopting a 2017 climate action plan created by the Basalt Green Team, Basalt has had a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. The new declaration, however, could see the town ramp up its “emergency mobilization effort” by previously untapped means.“This is asking for a widespread mobilization similar to what we saw in World War II, where everybody had a common goal and a common interest,” said Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. “What we do locally is a commitment to educating our residents and making sure that they understand what we’re doing and what the emergency essentially is worldwide. Also helping to catalyze that just transition and helping people along to a new economy, and then also trying to get full community participation.”

The meaning of “emergency mobilization effort” is perhaps a little vague, but there’s no ambiguity in the resolution’s clause about “regional collaboration.” The idea is that Basalt alone can only do so much good, but by working with other governments throughout Colorado and the Mountain West, the effects can be much further reaching.

It’s a phenomenon that has already been seen locally, as Holy Cross Energy — one of Colorado’s largest utilities — under pressure from municipalities to provide more clean energy, has stepped up its green-energy efforts. The company had a goal of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 but just announced it would be achieving that goal by 2020, a decade ahead of time.

“Leadership there was able to say, ‘Look, we’ve got ski resorts, we’ve got towns and municipalities looking for clean energy,’” said councilmember Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co. “That means they’ll probably achieve 100 percent renewable — or definitely far beyond 70 percent — by the mid-2020s.”

Though there’s nothing binding about the resolution — it’s more a statement of intent than any sort of legislation — it does empower Basalt to do everything it can to go green and get others to come along. 

The Roaring Fork Valley has a fairly progressive history on energy issues. The future success of the green movement — and possibly the fate of the planet — rests on getting less progressive towns and cities across Colorado, the U.S. and the world to come around, as well.

Todd Hartley writes for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.