Aspen and Pitkin County pride themselves, as do their citizens, on environmental consciousness. Attempts to move the planet in the direction of environmental salvation abound. We support and subsidize recycling, composting, transit. We have given away solar panels, provided free rides and built beautiful parks to cleanse the runoff water bound for the Roaring Fork.
And we have litigated constantly with NIMBYs, right-wing think tanks, HOAs, semi-professional antagonistic citizens, so-called environmentalists and right-wing curmudgeons to get these things done. One vote, one election, one court case at a time.
Notwithstanding those efforts, the alliances, the public education and sometimes the shaming of the citizenry, the brutal fact remains that this little valley can lead only by example, not by political force or even economic leverage. At least there is consolation in knowing that, “Leading by example is not only the best way, but the only way to lead.”
To go to a regional-, state- or even worldwide gathering as a community leader is to be asked how we did what we did, not why. People take notes and do more than just nod at approval when Aspen’s or Pitkin County’s efforts are presented.
Mayor Skadron gets invited to travel the world not because he claims expertise in solving complex eco problems but because he, as will his successors, represent a community caught in the hopeless liberalism of: DO SOMETHING.
We are not running out of things to do, examples to set, experiments to run.
It’s time to take on the ocean of plastic trash that’s filling and killing aquatic life and maybe us.
Not because we generate enough trash to make a difference but because maybe, just maybe, people would pay attention if this community did something about the accumulated plastic that leaves whales dead on the beach full of the plastic parts that outweigh the zooplankton at the base of the marine food pyramid in the ocean gyres where it accumulates like the hair in your bathtub drain.
Now of course my libertarian friends will suggest we leave it to the free market to solve the problem, much as we have left health care, opioid addiction, climate change and other huge problems to the unseen hand of the market.
And it’s working so well, right? I mean, insurance is cheap and affordable, opioids are no worry and the climate change hoax is not a problem. Neglect, benign or malicious, doesn’t seem to be getting it done.
According to a Feb. 4, 2018, article in The New Yorker, most of the plastic contaminating the ocean is micro-plastic that can’t be dredged or fishnetted out of the ocean. About 94 percent of American tap water contains nano plastic. That can’t be any better for us than it is for the baby whales trying to ingest krill and plankton by inhaling water and filtering it with their baleen as they exhale it.
I notice in the valley many food aisles devoted to plastic bottles and containers. Keeping those out of the river would help much more than trying to retrieve them from the ocean.
Given our apparent dependence on them — cardboard containers for water and soft drinks are hard to find, and much of the rest of our food is shrink-wrapped and security-insulated by plastic. Many places in town don’t have a recycling receptacle. And not a day goes by without all of us seeing empty plastic bottles along the road, the trail and the bike paths.
In Uganda and two other African countries, plastic bags are outlawed altogether, a model that is too extreme for the Roaring Fork Valley. Banning plastic bottles would probably result in the usual multi-generational struggle that would foster more anger and avoidance than compliance. Just too extreme and attendant with the usual enforcement problems.
The answer might well be what Baltimore has done — Styrofoam take out containers are banned and the river inputs to the harbor are filtered by contraptions affectionately known as Mr. Trash Wheel, professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel, locally popular devices powered by the river current and solar power. A million tons of debris have been removed since the first device was placed in 2014.
Imagine a regional approach to the creation of such devices in our watershed, capturing trash and plastic before it becomes too atomized to be filtered and recovered.
Imagine a political dialogue around doing something other than blabbing about “Outreach,” “Leadership,” “Energy,” and all the other direct and indirect chest thumping and passive aggressive sniping that passes for political conversation these days.
Maybe I’m just a dreamer…