As he was working to form the United Nations, Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
While the British prime minister was referring to the aftermath of World War II, Aspen Valley Land Trust Executive Director Suzanne Stephens quoted him recently as she talked about one of the greatest battles of our lifetimes: climate change.
“Out of every crisis we have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” she said.
When we rebuild our economy, Stephens said, we can revert back to an unhealthy dependency on fossil fuels or we can start investing in alternative energies.
Her biggest question: who is going to lead us in that new direction?
In his bid for U.S. Senator, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says it’s him.
A geologist turned businessman turned mayor and finally governor, Hickenlooper has been a climate change advocate for decades. Hickenlooper received his master’s degree in Earth and environmental science in 1979, back when climate change was only known as “the greenhouse effect,” he joked in an interview with the Aspen Daily News on Friday.
“But every geologist knew this was a potentially existential threat to our planet,” Hickenlooper added seriously.
As mayor and governor, Hickenlooper led several clean energy and conservation projects, most notably FasTracks (Denver’s expanded transit system), the protection of public lands, and the first methane regulations in the country.
Now, Hickenlooper said he wants to build off of his Colorado experiences as senator, campaigning on a national job-creating clean energy plan with six pillars: 1. Funding research and development into climate technologies; 2. Upgrading transport systems and buildings; 3. Transitioning workers to green jobs,; 4. Encouraging youths to pursue careers that combat climate change; 5. Implementing a carbon dividend plan (where fees on carbon are distributed back to American taxpayers); and 6. Channeling environmental innovation to create equity.
In the short term, Hickenlooper said he is determined to get the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act (CORE Act) passed.
“Cory Gardner has been blocking it instead of listening to the community, but the CORE Act would protect 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands, [including] Thompson Divide, which is just north of Aspen,” Hickenlooper said.
Other valley leaders agree with Hickenlooper’s priorities. Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) Executive Director Mona Newton said there has to be a renewed focus on climate change in the wake of COVID-19.
Climate innovation, Newton explained, will create jobs desperately needed after the pandemic. In Washington, Hickenlooper would have the chance to kill two birds with one stone. Newton gave a local example: buildings were responsible for 53% of carbon emissions in Pitkin County during 2017. Many older homes contribute heavily to emissions, but there isn’t a large enough workforce trained to upgrade them. By incentivizing or funding the renovation of energy inefficient buildings, the federal government can create new sustainable jobs and lower the nation’s carbon footprint, Newton said.
Along with Hickenlooper’s six climate pillars, the two directors said they would also like the federal tax codes to be revised.
Aspen Valley Land Trust works through conservation easements incentivized by the state government. Stephens explained how landowners receive both a tax deduction and a tax credit for easements, the latter a boon for landowners who are short on cash.
The credit, Stephens said, is essential for conservation work, and she wants it to be included in the federal tax code.
On the other hand, Newton wants the federal government to reevaluate tax codes to decrease dependence on the fossil fuel industries.
“We’ve built a reliance on severance tax dollars. Garfield County receives a lot of severance tax dollars based on the amount of oil and gas that is severed and then sold,” Newton said. “If we are going to move away from a carbon-based economy, we have to figure out how those economies and communities are going to survive without getting the severance taxes.”
The governor said he is eager to tackle the complexities of climate change.
“If we address it now,” Hickenlooper said, “it’s going to actually stimulate our economy; it’s going to create jobs and give us a much cleaner world to live in so there’ll be health benefits … I think this is the moment where we can get our country to unite around a solution to climate change.”