Asian pollution plagues the West

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Further evidence is arriving that the flapping of butterfly wings in Beijing can affect the mountains of the West. Except that in this case it’s not just butterflies.

Two air-monitoring stations in the Sierra Nevada of California are revealing pollution from China and other Asian countries. About a third of the pollution is dust, which is increasing due to drought and deforestation, says a researcher, Steve Cliff. The remainder is composed of sulfur, soot and trace metals from the burning of coal, diesel and other fossil fuels.

Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, according to a World Bank estimate. Coal-fired power plants supply two-thirds of China’s energy and are its biggest source of air pollution. Worse, China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week to 10 days.

Scientists have long known that dust and presumably other pollutants from Asia can be, and frequently are, transported across the Pacific Ocean and into the American West. The transport can take anywhere from five days to two weeks. Dust on snow is frequently noted in the spring months in Colorado, for example, with the dust sometimes originating in Arizona. But dust from the Gobi Desert, even in mid-winter, has also been recorded. By determining the chemical composition of the dust particles, scientists are able to trace its origin.

University researchers are studying the dust-on-snow phenomenon in Southwestern Colorado in the area between Silverton and Telluride, with a particular concern about how it could result from – and in turn help cause more – global warming. (Darker snow melts more rapidly, as is absorbs solar rays, causing more heat, which discourages snow).

Scientists do not consider the current pollution from China a health problem in the West, but warn of greater consequences if India and other less-developed countries, adopt the high-polluting standards of the United States, Australia, and other developed countries.

“If they started driving cars and using electricity at the rate of the developed world, the amount of pollution they generate will increase many, many times,” said Tony van Curen, a researcher at the University of California-Davis.

Wind power boosts Vail Resorts stock

DENVER – Vail Resorts’ announcement last week that it is following in the footsteps of Aspen Skiing and going 100 percent wind for its electrical energy needs at its five ski areas, 10 hotels and 125 retail stores attracted broad attention.

The story ran on the front page in Denver’s two biggest newspapers, but even got prominent play in theNew York Timesand theWall Street Journal.

The company’s chief executive officer, Rob Katz, said the wind power purchase was motivated by the desire for the company to get closer to its customers. What does that mean? It included, he said, broad concerns about potential impacts global warming.

While Vail Resorts representatives said they would be paying an undisclosed additional cost in making the commitment to wind, they also said they believed it would be good for the bottom line. Stockholders seem to agree.The Rocky Mountain News notes that the stock price for the company went up $1 after the news.

The Summit Daily News interpreted Vail’s announcement as a challenge – and a welcome one. The newspaper said the wind-power decision means “good environmental stewardship will become an expectation for all high country businesses, if it’s not already. Simply put, if Vail can do it, so can we.”

The newspaper suggested that Intrawest – another major ski company and real estate developer – will surely follow the example set by Aspen and Vail.


Pitkin County pushes smaller homes

ASPEN – Pitkin County in early July adopted a law capping sizes of new homes at 15,000 square feet. Some homebuilders seem to fear even more restrictive laws could be enacted.

“The general atmosphere is one of fear in terms of eventually reducing house size in the future,” said one real estate broker, Tim Estin, of Mason & Morse. He toldThe Aspen Times that with land prices so high in Pitkin County, real estate buyers probably feel compelled to build houses as large as possible on their property.

Of course, Aspen does cater to the world’s wealthiest 1 to 3 percent of citizens. That probably explains why the average new home in Pitkin County is about 5,000 square feet, com

pared to the median of about 2,450 square feet nationally. But even that national figure is 250 percent larger than comparable homes built in 1950.

In taking aim at large homes, Pitkin County had several justifications. A larger home requires more construction vehicles, such as dump trucks, which create more damage to roads. Once completed, according to a 1999 study conducted by the county, homes larger than 3,500 square feet generate more demand for services such as cleaning and landscaping than do smaller homes.

And finally, larger homes require more energy to heat and, even in Aspen, cool. “The trend we’re seeing, including the trend in luxury homes, is moving in the opposite direction of that which we need to go,” said Dan Richardson, the global warming coordinator for Aspen.

However, Richardson cautioned that larger does not always mean more polluting. One 11,000-square-foot house surveyed by the town in its global warming program, called Canary Initiative, had fewer total emissions than one that was 8,000 square feet.

Still, the general moralistic bent is expressed well by Mick Ireland, a county commissioner. Aspen “has a late-empire-of-Rome feel to it that’s kind of disturbing,” he told theTimes. “Excess, everywhere you look.”


Fractional jet ownership takes hold

ASPEN – Earlier this year, Aspen released a study that attempts to document the greenhouse gas emissions caused by residents of the town and its visitors. Those impacts are huge, about double those per capita of U.S. residents. And a good part of the story – although certainly not all – is the jet travel that requires enormous amounts of fossil fuels.

Among the most extravagant ways to fly, of course, is by private jet. But new fractional-share jets make it more affordable, if still reserved for the über rich.The New York Times on Sunday explored this rarified world, in which use of jets can be purchased the way lower-income immigrants purchase long-distance telephone cards.

Venturing to Aspen, the newspaper explained that private air travel has become almost ordinary to even Gen X entrepreneurs, not just old men. Such was the case of the couple in their 30s who, because of equipment problems, were forced to fly commercially from Aspen to Denver’s airport.

“There, the clients’ children, 4 and 6, never having experienced a commercial airport, sat on the floor of the vast and bewildering concourse and wailed,” explained the paper. “And who among us, truly, has not at some point experienced a similar urge?”

The newspapers also mentioned Sun Valley and Jackson Hole as being among the A-list for people with money enough to burn jet fuel in a private sort of way.


Mudslide roars down Telluride creek

TELLURIDE – A 45-minute rainstorm on July 31 caused a landslide on Royer Creek, a tributary of the San Miguel River located on the east side of Telluride. Included in the slide were boulders as large as Volkswagen bugs.

Lary Simpson, whose house sits next to Royer Creek, compared the noise of the mudslide to that of an F-14 jet taking off. Or, to that of railroad cars crashing over a cliff.

Durango-based Art Mears, a geohazard specialist who has worked in virtually every Colorado mountain town in the last 30 years, estimated the mudslide as a 100- to 300-year event. Debris on the valley floor was 10 to 15 feet deep, and removal will require several hundred dump-truck loads, reportedThe Telluride Watch.

The Watch reported no injuries, and apparently only minor inconveniences. The mudslide closed roads over both Imogene Pass, which goes to Ouray, and Black Bear Pass, which goes to Red Mountain Pass. Imogene has been closed several times in July due to rockfall.


Signs of global warming abound

CRESTED BUTTE – Can there be any doubt that the climate is changing? Anecdotal evidence continues to pour in.

At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, located in the ghost town of Gothic, near Crested Butte, the caretaker has spotted robins returning weeks before they typically did 30 years ago. Plus, reports theCrested Butte News, robins are more likely to be spotted at higher elevations, another sign of warming.

– compiled by Allen Best

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