Climate march

Students gather in Paepcke Park last Friday following their march from the Aspen School District campus to protest a lack of action on climate change.

It’s official: A climate-change state of emergency exists in Pitkin County.

That’s according to Pitkin County commissioners, who passed a resolution on Wednesday to declare the emergency and request “regional collaboration to counter climate change.”

The declaration was ratified a mere two weeks after a meeting in which several local students from the Aspen School District and Aspen Country Day School lobbied the Board of County Commissioners to declare a climate emergency through a resolution similar to what the Basalt Town Council passed in late August. 

The same students were among hundreds of youths who turned out for an internationally coordinated Global Climate Strike last Friday, which involved skipping classes to march from the public schools campus off Maroon Creek Road to Aspen to protest leaders’ lack of attention to the climate-change issue.

Zach Hendrix Sr., an administrative assistant with the county’s community development department, prepared the resolution, which places Pitkin County in line with more than 1,000 governments around the world that have declared climate emergencies, according to his memorandum to commissioners.

“Thirty-two of these governments are in the United States of America, including the town of Basalt, and joining with them will keep Pitkin County in a leadership role for climate preservation,” the memo states.

In addition, the memo says the declaration is “necessitated by the current global increase in average temperature” of 1 degree Celsius. Ten percent of the planet is currently experiencing an increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius in average temperature, according to the memo.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion related to how the resolution will have integrity, or “teeth,” in lieu of being a symbolic gesture.

Hendrix’s memo says the resolution “links to all components of the county’s strategic plan” relating to “a flourishing natural and built environment,” “a livable and supportive community” and “a prosperous economy.” While the declaration has no immediate budget impact on the county, “the BOCC will need to consider what measures will be necessary to accomplish these goals in future budgets,” the memo adds.

Several students attended Wednesday’s meeting and read excerpts from a recent speech by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist who is credited with rallying youths across the world to the climate-action cause. 

Commissioner Patti Clapper and her BOCC colleagues thanked them for calling attention to the issue. 

“This really made a difference,” Clapper said. “My children and my grandchildren will be proud to stand with you, as will I.”

Commissioner Greg Poschman, whose two daughters were among the student protesters, read a section of the resolution as a way of pointing out how it will be connected to past, present and future county decisions. The county already has a comprehensive climate action plan, which commissioners adopted in 2017.

The resolution notes that the implementation of the climate-action plan is already occurring on a daily basis, with some of the significant actions (and goals) being:

  • The revision of the county’s building code to work toward net-zero energy use.
  • The revision of the land-use code to encourage installation of renewable energy technologies.
  • The installation of solar-energy systems on new county buildings, and the retrofitting of existing county buildings.
  • The emphasis on energy conservation in all county facilities.
  • Working toward the diversion of construction and demolition waste and debris from the landfill.
  • Continual support and development of regional mass-transit efforts and transportation solutions.
  • The electrification of the county’s vehicle fleet.

“I just want to say, every time anybody comes to us now, I think the first thing on our minds is the phrase I keep coming back to — and I ask it uncomfortably to people sometimes — ‘What is your climate-action plan?’ And let’s put ‘action’ back into ‘climate action.’ I want to make a button I can wear that asks people that. Maybe that’s how we can all greet each other,” Poschman said.

He added that while everyone is part of the problem, everyone can also be “part of the solution.” Commissioner Steve Child said that moving forward, the resolution will not ring hollow, as county officials will be able to cite it as they take action on other items designed to cut down on the effect of greenhouse gases.

During the public-comment portion of the discussion, resident Lorrie Winnerman voiced support for the student movement, but suggested that they not look at the situation in such a dire manner.

It’s been said time and time again over the last few decades that Earth is falling apart, she noted. Winnerman said that while she believes in climate change, she doesn’t believe there is an emergency. Adults need to stop scaring kids about the consequences of climate change, she said.

“Please don’t be panicked by this,” Winnerman told the students. “Don’t think the world is going to end. Just do what you need to do to help us. … There are solutions that are very simple.”

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.