Tackling climate at a corporate level contrasts individual and local efforts

By Johnna Geick

Residents of Southern Colorado are feeling the effects of climate change, but remain divided on the value of personal efforts versus systematic changes. 

Big ski corporations like Aspen Ski Company are driving for political and institutional change, claiming individual conservation efforts are trivial. But others emphasize the importance of small-scale changes, to maintain hope and spark larger movements. 

“This has nothing to do with your individual actions. The climate actions we have to make are systematic,” said Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. 

The company funded a project with Oxbow Mining to capture and flare methane seeping out of a decommissioned coal mine, converting the harmful greenhouse gas to energy. They also have a strong partnership with Protect Our Winters. 

The skiing company helped new, diverse candidates gain positions on the Holy Cross Energy Utility board. Ever since, HCE has made stronger commitments to higher percentages of renewable energy.

“You might be asking, do you want corporations involved so heavily in your politics? My answer is, you already have it. So either take them out entirely, or play dirty ball with the bad guys,” Schendler said. 

Auden Schendler presents a climate change slideshow to our journalists. Photo by Johnna Geick

“The answer is public policy. It’s just not gonna happen fast enough if we call on the masses to do this.”

He says individual actions distract from the work he believes we ought to be doing, such as running for political positions or participating in social movements.

But Amory Lovins, Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, disagrees. Lovins described the concept of applied hope, rooted in the belief that practical and grounded hope can promote change and solutions for our climate. 

“If you don’t focus on what you can do day by day, you lose applied hope,” Lovins said.

Lovins is certainly doing his part — his private residence in Old Snowmass, Colorado showcases innovative techniques for reducing carbon footprint at home. The building is energy independent and produces more energy than it uses, thanks to solar panels, efficient appliances and superinsulation.

The house even includes a tropical greenhouse that holds heat in floor tiles and pond water. Lovins is able to grow bananas, papayas, coffee beans and more while snow piles up outside his window. 

Amory Lovins in his greenhouse. Photo by Johnna Geick.

“You’d be amazed how much could change if a rather small percentage of people started acting differently,” said Lovins. His home has served as an example for sustainable building design around the world. 

This kind of personal action in response to a changing climate, whether individually impactful or not, is necessary to keep people caring about the environment according to Sue Navy, Board President of High Country Conservation Advocates. 

Navy and other volunteers reconfigure rocks to create small dams which slow down water flow and allow ephemeral streams to stay around longer. Though the program is somewhat small and local, ephemeral streams are essential to wet meadow habitats and organisms within them, like the endangered sage grouse. 

These kinds of programs run through HCCA allow community members to get involved in combating the effects of climate change.

Sue Navy holds up prayer flags promoting the conservation of a mountain called Red Lady by locals, which is often threatened by mining proposals. Photo by Johnna Geick.

“Maybe that’s what everyone needs — to feel like they’re making a difference,” said Navy. 

Whether it’s running for office or remodeling your home, Southern Colorado residents are responding to climate change and making efforts to fight it.

Though not everyone agrees on which approaches are most impactful, these efforts assure us that a growing number of people care about the changing climate — Aspen Ski Corporation, RMI and HCCA can all agree that this is a good first step.


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