What a luxury ski resort is doing to solve climate change

3878659561_5c01d7d51b_b.jpg I'm sitting in the lobby of the Little Nell with Auden Schendler. This is a fancy pants, 92-room spa and resort in Aspen that routinely hosts world leaders and celebrities in rooms that cost upwards of $760 a night. The Nell is a major energy spender — in 2008, it used 25,556 MMBTU of natural gas and 3,269,967kWh of electricity, generating 4,245 tons of CO2 emissions (the average house generates about 17,000 lbs). Aspen is an entire town full of buildings like the Nell; in addition to the hotels and shops, the luxury ski town hosts four mountains full of energy-sucking ski lifts, snowmaking machines, snowcats, and heated buses on constant rotation that take people from one part of town to another. Add to that the transportation costs to and from the resort of the 1.36 million skiers and 34,000 employees that come here every ski season, and you've got what seems like a major environment killer.

But if you ask Schendler, he'll tell you that the Little Nell is a prime hub for fighting climate change.

Schendler — a tall, mountain-man type wearing big boots and a puffy jacket — is the Sustainability Director of the Aspen Skiing Company. What this means is that he has the seemingly absurd task of transforming the entire energy-sucking, luxury-soaked resort into a tool to fight climate change. Earlier this year, Schendler authored a book called Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution — a fun-to-read motivator that very clearly outlines how big, influential corporations can leverage their power to lead the fight against climate change. Schendler used to be a regular grassroots "enviro guy"; but now that he's a bigwig exec at a big corporation, he's even more hell bent on solving the climate problem. We chatted for about an hour at the Nell's restaurant last week, and here's what he said:

The question: "How do you even justify what you're doing?" comes up all the time. I'm sorry, you're the sustainability guy at the ski resort? You care about climate change? Why don't you shut down the resort? Aspen flies people in from all over the world. If you look at carbon footprint, that's 27,000 tons of CO2 a year. For your day of skiing, it's about 30-40 lbs of CO2 for one day. Per skiier! Snowmaking uses huge energy. Shut down!

The problem with that logic is, it's very hard to draw the line. Ok, no skiing. No flying? Ok, no flying because it's worse than skiing. No vehicles. Can't ride the bus. Can you stay in a hotel? Not a five star hotel. Can you stay in a motel 6? Pretty lavish compared to say, Bangladesh. It becomes impossible to say what's okay that's not.

It's wasteful, I see it. But The Nell is a five star hotel. The whole concept is wasteful. And unless we say we're gonna change the whole product, we're stuck. Skiing is absurd on its face. But we have to assume that the business itself is acceptable because presumably, no matter how radical we are as environmentalists, the community needs a base of business. There's value to an economy and people having meaningful jobs that pay well. Otherwise to solve climate you'd have to shut the world down and go back to medieval times.

We've done huge energy retrofits in this hotel. Solar panels on the roof, LED lights in all the rooms, the garage... all this cool stuff. If you look at the menu here, it's all local food, farmed locally. We certify the buildings to LEED standards. Every guest who stays at the Nell has $2 deducted from their bill and that goes to open space preservation. Some of the lifts have maps on them — it's cool, it keeps people from littering, and we don't have to print as many. Those are environmental solutions in the old way, but they also reach a captive audience with climate messages.

But if you look at the impact of those emissions reductions in the scope of the world, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if I make the decision not to fly. That's not gonna stop the plane. The plane's still flying. Even if the ski industry eliminated all our emissions, we're still out of business by 2050 or 2100 because of the climate.

So what do you do? You gotta fix the whole system. You have to fix the economy and the energy economy so that the carbon footprint is much less. We have to fix the problem of transportation. The best thing to do would be to have a carbon tax. You can't just say, okay no pool. What you can do is create the conditions where it doesn't make sense to have that pool or to fly. A carbon tax taxes energy, so all the energy used is more expensive. you just have to decide whether to pay more or not. Right now it costs $2000 a year to heat that pool. Maybe if it cost $20,000, things would start to change.

I always get in the same arguments with the hard core enviro community. They want me to do rinky dink stuff like bamboo foors and recycling, and I tell them it doesn't matter, that their personal actions don't matter because the problem's too big. That pisses people off — they get mad at me and say every little bit helps. But every little bit doesn't help because the problem's too big. If everyone who was so inclined did every little thing from the Prius to the bulb, we still wouldn't solve this problem. It's gotta be a global mandate, not a voluntary thing. My day is full of people getting furious at me. Last week I had to send the FBI some death threats I was getting about calling the governor of Utah willfully ignorant on climate. This is war. This is a combat situation. and it's gonna hurt people the way wars hurt people. I like to say, we're gonna have to break things and hurt people to make this happen. Just being straightorward and truthful about these things instead of glossing and deluding people is incredibly valuable.

If Aspen can be anything, it can be a shining city on a hill. There's a lot of energy being wasted at the Nell, but it's also a power center. The people at this hotel are the people who can save the world. Jeffrey Sachs said, if the top 5% of the wealthiest people in the world gave 4% of their income every year, you'd end global poverty. Those people are right here! They're in this hotel! I'm exactly where I need to be. In the past two months, our CEO has been to DC twice to lobby on climate change. We have the tax resources and the corporate resources — if we can't demonstrate that this problem is solvable, then no one can do it. We're a lab for addressing climate change; we can try stuff and fail and be public about those failures and successes in a way that has a ripple effect.

What if I said, you know what, I can't justify being here at this five star hotel. I'm gonna go to the peace corps and work on putting photovoltaic installations in Samoa. What have I done? I've essentially made myself powerless. I've changed this from being about climate to being about me personally. The second this becomes about you or me, we reach a point where we're fully incapable of solving a problem. It's naive to just say, our impact is terrible, we're gonna shut down. A ski resort operated appropriately is one of the sustianable conrnerstones of this community. Are we there yet? No, but we'll get there.

Images: Jeremy Swanson (top), Paul Morrison (thumbnail), courtesy of the Aspen Skiing Company


  1. “A carbon tax taxes energy, so all the energy used is more expensive. you just have to decide whether to pay more or not. Right now it costs $2000 a year to heat that pool.”

    The end result being that the wealthy get to fly, ski, and have swimming pools, while the middle class and working class do not.

    And at the same time the environmental guilt of entertainers, trust fund babies and media moguls is assuaged. Wow, that’s a win win for the world.

  2. So… the guy who is being wasteful with his electric power is telling us all about how not to be wasteful with political power??

  3. “You can’t just say, okay no pool. What you can do is create the conditions where it doesn’t make sense to have that pool or to fly.”

    here’s where i lost total interest.

    yes, you CAN say, okay, no pool. because the conditions we’re living in currently make it unfeasible to have a pool.

    the guy sounds like he means well, but is sort of an idiot overall.

  4. @Notary Sojac
    Your conclusion appears to leave out what is done with the money collected by the carbon tax. Almost all of the carbon tax proposals that I have read call for approximately half to fund clean energy r&d and efficiency programs, with the remainder to be a progressive direct rebate back to the taxpayers, so as to avoid exactly the situation that you describe.

    1. @pittnat

      Clearly, the middle class has nothing to fear from a government program that takes trillions of dollars from them with a promise to give it right back.

      Just look at the way the government has distributed bailout tax dollars. Main street is getting it all, and Wall Street is getting nothing but more regulations and limits on pay. When they’re not just getting busted up because we can’t afford companies to get too big to fail. And then you’ve got the federal regulators coming in to make sure all the mortgage-backed assets are marked to market.

      It’s good to have a government we can trust to look out for the interests of the middle class.

  5. So if it’s a war, people are going to get hurt, things are going to break, and there need to be global mandates instead of useless voluntary actions, why is the big, expensive, wasteful ski resort performing useless voluntary actions and acting as though they’re exempt from the potential breaking and hurting?

    You don’t get to say, “There need to be serious changes in the system,” and then add, “for everyone but us.”

  6. Come on, if carbon costs were included in energy costs there would be sudden real incentive for developments in efficiency, less polluting energy sources and carbon sequestering. A quick look at the tech advances over the last 20 years based on the incentive of selling a PC or cell phone should tell you that all that is needed is the right incentive and changes will come.

  7. My forehead furrowed on the statement, “It doesn’t matter if I make the decision not to fly. That’s not gonna stop the plane. The plane’s still flying.”

    Actually, that’s only true if you’re the *only* person who isn’t flying. But millions of people aren’t flying and it’s why airlines have cut so many of their routes. As a kid, I remember looking for open rows on L-1011 flights where I could stretch out and sleep. Haven’t had a lot of luck finding flights with only a dozen people on them for a loooooong time.

    1. If the owner of a private jet (and I imagine there are a few of those among the guests at this resort) decides to fly commercial and ground the Gulfstream, then in fact there is a plane that doesn’t fly.

      Not that I’m expecting much of that from the Let’s Make The Little People Conserve So I Don’t Have To glitterati.

  8. This is at least a business model that preserves some of nature; If it were not for the skiing, it could be that the entire rocky mountains might be leveled for a walmart parking lot.

    If it were not for hunting, there would much fewer forest lands as someone would try to bulldoze burn or saw some money out of the same land flora and fauna.

  9. He’s right that there needs to be a big overhaul, he’s wrong that the little things don’t add up. I hate that all or nothing mentality. It justs lets people feel better about their crap decisions.
    And pittnat, if I already make shite pay it doesn’t matter if I get a tax rebate. I still won’t be able to spend $20,000 to take a single flight.

  10. Close Little Nell. Those people are pigs and have no place in a green world. Everyone’s better off without them.

    Sincerely, Beaver Creek.

  11. i for one actually like this guy’s approach – it’s practical. and he understands his position in the world and how to leverage it. some of what he’s saying is a little off, but this guy will get more done than others in his position b/c he at least understands the problem and what won’t fix it.

  12. “If everyone who was so inclined did every little thing from the Prius to the bulb, we still wouldn’t solve this problem. It’s gotta be a global mandate, not a voluntary thing.”

    That’s true and worth saying and I’m glad to hear him saying it.

    Sure, it could be used as an excuse to buy a gas guzzler, but that’s not his message. He is doing all those little things (efficient lighting), etc, so it’s not just a cop out. And of course that “little” (or not so little when you do it to a whole luxury resort) efforts help. The help directly and they help by inspiring other people.

    The point is that they won’t be enough. We need radical change. System wide change.

    A paper leaked today, from the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, shows that world leaders (in the spirit of political compromise) aiming at a 3 degree (Celsius) temperature rise.

    These people are in a position to make that fundamental shift. But they’re blowing it. They still see it from a political point of view – where physical reality is less important than media spin.

  13. I am a long-time Aspen resident and have watched this ridiculous greenwashing for some time. Two salient points:

    1) The SkiCo talks all day about their commitment to green and “save the snow” and this and that, but get on any aspen/snowmass ski lift over the past three years and there are plenty of citation Jet share ads (or whatever their private air partner is … maybe netjets).

    Depending on what chair you get on, you can actually see a private jet ad _next to_ some self-congratulatory green washing.

    2) The Little Nell, and every other resort in aspen, is constantly running a stream of giant tahoes/escalades/navigators back and forth to the aspen airport, all day, every day. Further, presence of tuna tartar and other raw fish items on high end menus from Montana to Matushisa, etc., are the result of daily fedex flights from the coast.

    In fact, the very buildings themselves that are in a constant state of retrofit, year in, year out, are the result of an endless stream of contractor trucks, cement trucks, cranes, etc., that are a CONSTANT feature here – even on established buildings like the little Nell and so on … all of those new fractional ownership units didn’t just grow out of the ground there…

    Call Schendler back and ask him when they will stop taking the private jet advertising dollars

  14. Well put ADavies. It blows my mind that people just don’t seem to understand this. Voluntary reduction just isn’t going to make the kind of difference we need. As long as there is a market system in place underneath it all the consumer using less gas isn’t going to make a difference because someone else will just pick up the (now) cheaper leftovers.

    As for all the people screaming that a carbon tax is bad because the rich will be able to continue wasting carbon while the poor will have to deal with the brunt of the cuts… I fear you are confusing two societal problems. The vast wealth differences between rich and poor are another big issue facing the world, but they don’t _only_ apply to carbon, and once again in a free market your going to have to accept that the wealthy get to have things that the poor don’t.

  15. “It blows my mind that people just don’t seem to understand this. Voluntary reduction just isn’t going to make the kind of difference we need.”

    Ok, firstly: Tough titties. Secondly, how do you justify advocating mandates, laws, sanctions, taxes, whatever, and then turn around and say ANYTHING about ‘free’ markets?

    Climate change, whether man made or not, whether real at all or not, is being used dishonestly, and disproportionately, as a tool for control. Effective means of reducing carbon output, such as switching to nuclear power, are being ignored in favor of more taxes, more regulations, and more burden on the working class.

    Step 1: Find something scary/bad. It doesn’t even have to be true, but it helps if it at least arguably is.
    Step 2: Convince people that it’s a huge deal. Use the threat of death of cute animals, or some other emotional knee jerk motivator.
    Step 3: Establish further control over the people in the form of taxes and regulations, rationalized by hyped up boogyman.
    Step 4: Declare victory over boogyman after some time. Use ‘tiger repellent’ logic to show that the boogyman is gone now.
    Step 5: Remind everyone that the boogyman could come back at any time, thus cementing the anti-boogyman regulations and taxes into perpetuity.

    A list of boogymen from history:

    Climate change

    About half of them were/are demonstrably ‘real’ boogymen. ALL of them were/are misused as fulcrums of control.

    1. Used as a tool of control by who? The governments that are only reluctantly doing as little as possible, or the environmentalists who won’t themselves enjoy any of the benefits of that control?

  16. “The Little Nell, and every other resort in aspen, is constantly running a stream of giant tahoes/escalades/navigators back and forth to the aspen airport, all day, every day.”

    In all fairness, try fitting five people plus ski gear in a Prius. Now, try driving that fully loaded Prius through heavy snow on a steady mountain climb to the ski resort.

    1. I did a study/proposal for a group of high-end ski resorts proposing the use of well-appointed buses to replace those “giant tahoes/escalades/navigators”. It would have been cheaper and have far less impact on the environment. But, no matter what euphemism we used, they were still viewed as “just buses” and not fitting for the resorts. “Our customers are not the kind who ride in buses”, said one exec.

      1. SimCity taught me that wealthy people prefer trains. In Ottawa, Canada, light rail is a big issue and I suspect it’s due at least in part to the fact that light rail is a component of just about every “world class city.”

        The SkiTube mentioned above sounds like an awesome idea that could even be applied here – we have a few ski hills just 20 minutes drive from downtown! I’d train out every day, and the rail line is already there! I’d spend more money at the hill, enabling them to invest more in generation etc., and I could dodge having to warm up the car, traffic, parking in a snowy lot and driving through Gatineau Park. Wins all around!

        That’s the kind of thinking the author is advocating. It’s easy to say shut it down, stop doing this, but that isn’t using our big brains to their best capacity! We need solutions that create more jobs (or at least don’t destroy any) in order for them to be popular. Even us middle-class slobs will feel a little elevated by a nice warm train with wifi.

        And even if climate change doesn’t exist, let’s reduce our waste anyways! Let’s find interesting ways to use it just because it isn’t costing us anything to make! That’s the thinking we need. Do better because we’re smart enough, we’re strong enough, and dog-gone it people like us!

  17. Here’s the distilled version of what we’re trying to do at ASC:
    We’re trying to use the ski resort, and the Nell, as levers to drive big scale policy change. We’re not saying “we’ll changed when we’re forced,” rather, we’re saying “we’ll force the change ourselves.”

    Some of the bloggers above might ask the question:
    “what should a ski resort or hotel do if they really, truely cared about climate change?” And then compare that to what ASC, or others, are doing. If the answer you come to is “shut down” that’s fine, but then you have to explore the ramifications of that situation, broadly applied, the first of which is that you probably don’t have a job anymore.

  18. As someone who has installed wind monitoring towers, that picture isn’t one I’d be particularly proud of. Mountain installations are never easy, but that’s got a bend to it that no client would like.

    On such a steep slope, the logistic of getting turbines up there would be interesting; we’re just a *little* over the limit of a Skycrane. Also, wind turbines like nice horizontal flow. This looks like it’d be coming in at a fierce angle. Full marks for effort, though …

  19. He really has a point: global control vs. local control. The cost of not flying is very high to a single individual, compared to the benefit this individual can achieve by staying home while most people continue to use the plane.

    Of course I want to prevent global warming and environmental pollution, so I am willing not to fly – but only if this results in a measurable effect. This measurable effect can only be achieved if practically everybody stays off the plane.

    The only way to make sufficient majorities not to use the plane is to implement global control, i.e. to change laws, and to lobby lawmakers to do so.

    Trouble is, in our societies, we only get to influence local levels. At the global levels, environmental interest have a hard time lobbying against business interests (for which environmental costs are only externals).

  20. i think almost everyone here missed his point, which can be summed up as, “i can have a larger positive impact on improving the world by bringing climate change to light in the playground of the rich and powerful at this here resort than installing solar panels out in some 3rd world country.”

    and he’s right.

    …you have to change peoples minds, and until they decide to take the public airbus themselves, you can’t very well preach to them if they don’t show up in their private jets now can you?

    1. Anonymous thinks his point can be summed up as,

      “I can have a larger positive impact on improving the world by bringing climate change to light in the playground of the rich and powerful at this here resort than installing solar panels out in some 3rd world country.”

      I think a better summary would be:

      ‘I, Auden Schendler, really am green because even though I’m not going to implement any actual improvements myself, what I am going to do is keep my lucrative and powerful position so that my CEO can fly back and forth to DC to lobby for carbon taxes to be imposed on everyone else.’

      And he seems surprised that his day is full of people who are furious at him. FFS.

      The guy seems to have a serious case of cognitive dissonance. It would be more honest if he’d simply said: ‘Look, I’ve changed the light bulbs, and if that isn’t good enough for you then you can fuck off. I’ve got a business to run here.’

  21. @#25: Word. The first time I *ever* saw conservation in my adult life was when gas topped $4/gallon. Suddenly people started buying Priuses. Even though I’ve tried to be a good environmentalist my whole life, I haven’t put a dent in the environmental footprint of the mythical Average American, much less the Average Human.

    @nutbastard: there’s no such thing as an unregulated market. It’s a fantasy. Markets have rules; without them, you can’t trade. Right now we have a market with rules that make a lot of extremely anti-social behavior profitable. Rearranging the rules of the market so that that’s no longer the case does not eliminate the freedom of the market – it just puts it in a more useful place.

    @RyanMacFitz: actually, the fact that you can no longer find entire open rows on the L-1011 means that the market is more efficient than it used to be. Which means that the environmental impact of your trip on a jet plane is much smaller than it used to be. Which means in turn that not making the trip will have less impact. Still, if you don’t need to make the trip, it’s probably better not to make it. But do bear in mind that it’s very likely that the seat you would have taken will be filled by someone else anyway.

  22. I think everybody is missing the real point:

    From the article:

    “…(the average house generates about 17,000 lbs)…”(this is CO2, per year) .

    This comes out to 46 lbs per day. Assume 3 people per house, 15 lbs per person per day.

    “For your day of skiing, it’s about 30-40 lbs of CO2 for one day. Per skiier!”

    Frankly, doubling my average carbon output over a few days of vacation, to ski, make snow, and stay in an uberluxury resort, doesn’t sound that bad. And that applies to someone who really lives in an ‘average sized’ house. Not to most of the people who can afford to stay at that hotel; I’m sure they live, on average, in much larger houses.

    In fact, in a $760 a night hotel, I’m sure most of the guests have a house at least twice the national average-with more than twice the national average in carbon footprint. In other words, they are actually reducing their carbon output by staying at the hotel!!
    (and this intuitively makes sense; their homes are certainly 4000+ square feet on average, while their hotel rooms may be 250 square feet. In other words, to be completely clear; on average a person that can afford to pay $760 a night at a hotel, is almost certainly reducing his living/heating/maintaining space by over 90% merely by sleeping in the hotel room rather than at home).

    Math: we know its hard, but the numbers were right there, for God’s sake. Surely you took some basic math in pursuit of that sociology degree ?!?


    1. #27, your working under the belief that everything is turned off when they leave on vacation. Which might not be the case.

  23. “The problem with that logic is, it’s very hard to draw the line. Ok, no skiing. No flying? Ok, no flying because it’s worse than skiing. No vehicles. Can’t ride the bus. Can you stay in a hotel? Not a five star hotel. Can you stay in a motel 6? Pretty lavish compared to say, Bangladesh. It becomes impossible to say what’s okay that’s not. ”

    Fallacy-o-rama! While there are always grey areas it is still easy to separate clear cases of luxury from more modest activities. Flying to Aspen for skiing is a luxury that should be stopped.

    1. “Flying to Aspen for skiing is a luxury that should be stopped.”

      OK. I can buy that. How about … flying to Denver and driving to Aspen to ski? What about driving from New York to Aspen to ski? What about flying from Sydney to Salt Lake City and then driving to Aspen to ski? How about driving from Caracas to Aspen to ski? How about flying from Copenhagen to Minneapolis and then cycling to Aspen to ski?

      Where precisely does the luxury kick in, and what rule of exclusion do you propose to ban it?

  24. Wake Up People!

    The Carbon Tax, Carbon Credits, and now – just approved, their derivatives are all a scam to separate you and your money whilst enriching their backers. One of their chief supporters could make billions, and btw has a Zinc Mine in his back yard. His house uses almost as much electricity a day as mine does a year (but mine is solar).

    Carbon is the basis of life on planet Earth. Thinking about that, this becomes a tax on life itself. Humans even exhale Carbon Dioxide (the Great Evil of our time), will that one day be subject to these taxes? Consider how governmental power and taxes grow but seldom decline unless a society fails. I would consider taxing life itself to be the essence of evil – to live backwards.

    I don’t buy the psuedo-science of “Climate Change”. It appears to me, and to many others including thousands of scientists, that the masters of global warming work as gate-keepers to stifle dissenting opinions and data. Some of this dissent includes biased choosing of data showing their warming trends while suppressing data and even pulling it from their “models” when it shows cooling. If you use only data that shows warming then you are bound to see warming. If we’ve warmed in the past century it has been by about 1/3rd of what they are now saying, and mostly in urbanized areas. By artificially inflating the effects of urban heat islands these pseudo-scientists are able to show that warming is “dangerous” and change the world to fit their vision, and the vision of those supporting this scammy carbon bubble.

    Our governments and their corporate backers* need for speed could not be more critical. It seems to most of us in the Western world that warming has (temporarily?) stopped. Our winters are now harsher than in the late 90’s. The “new” warming they are finding, so the global average is still up-ish, is from previously un-adjusted stations in remote and impoverished areas. They will not be able to find extra warming after that, and they will soon need to be able to point to their Magickal Carbon Credits as having saved mankind… if they can’t do that, they will never get the new bubble off the ground and make their billions.

    Even if I accepted that global warming was man made and occuring in dangerous amounts, I still don’t see how these scammy-assed derivatives and the corruption which will grow up around them, just as it did around the housing bubble and every other bubble in our post-Fed society- how are these supposed to save us all??? They won’t, who in their right mind would accept that mere taxes and trades of what is essentially a new kind of currency- why accept the premise that this would reduce consumption rather than increase it- why in Gaia’s green name should I believe that these corporate bastards and lying politicians have MY or the EARTH’S best interests at heart??? ROFLMAO

    * Yes, the oil companies now support the theory of man-made climate change and the carbon credit system needed to save us all. So does Wall Street. So does Big Media.

  25. I like the snow.

    In Australia all of our alpine regions are in National Parks, and none of the land in the resorts is owned, but on a 99 year lease. I dont think have been any new developments permitted for the last 20 or 30 years. This 99 year lease (or some sort of long-period lease) is a good way to help ensure that redevolpment is kept to a minimum as the investment is much less worthwhile than if the land was owned.

    Cars have to pay a daily entrance fee to the national parks, private ownership of snow mobiles is banned (big hotels get 1 each and ski staff/patrol only), and in NSW they installed an underground electric-powered train called the ‘skitube’ which runs skiiers up to the mountains from a low elevation (powered by electricity primarily from the snowy mountains electric hydro project).

    These are only some methods to make a wasteful activity less wasteful but, in the end of the day, even if every ski resort was to close down tomorrow, the reduction in carbon emissions would not even come close to doing anything to stop the snow melting, destroying the sport over the next 100-or-so years. It’s not like skiing has caused global warming.

    I think the ‘every industry needs to work to clean up their act’ method which he is suggesting is good to pursue because otherwise, who is to judge which activities are wasteful enough to be halted? To me it seems pretty wasteful for most of Northern Europe’s population to live where they do, but does that mean I have a right to tell them to move to a more sensible climate? No. We just need to work on cleaning up the way we already live or it all just becomes a blame game.

  26. I see a future of do-greeners pointing fingers like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Oy.

  27. I’m sure that this has already been pointed out, but I will reiterate it anyway.

    The little things do matter. It’s a combination of everyone doing what they can be it little medium and small. Walk instead of drive. Buy glass instead of plastic. Recycle. Don’t get a pool. It’s everything and everyone together that makes a difference. A ripple in a pond gets radiates outward. Make a splash.

  28. ah, aspen.

    I’d like to get this guy in a room with the shotgun wielding zombie of Hunter S. Thompson.

    you’ll never get a “global mandate” unless it is a “voluntary thing” for a VAST and VOCAL and ACTIVE majority.

    and likely not even then. i am inclined to be extremely cynical about the possibility of positive change coming about via the established political apparatus.

    if I had this guys job, might keep it. it might be true that he can make more of a dent there than in an ngo. it’s also true that the pay differential makes his proclaimed idealism a bit suspect.

    1. Provided you have an abstract ocean, an abstraction of a spoon, and no restrictions on the number of iterations.

      Not so easy with a real spoon, a real ocean with rivers running into it, nowhere to spoon it to without it running back again, infinite time not available.

  29. “generating 4,245 tons of CO2 emissions (the average house generates about 17,000 lbs”

    Next time remember to use same units when comparing them.

  30. In just a few paragraphs, Auden Schendler outlines the fundamental problems of a capitalist economic system (I think entirely by accident, mind you):

    1) Capitalism is wasteful
    2) Capitalism robs individuals of control over their lives, both in economic and political terms (because no individual, or even group of individuals, can through their personal decisions overcome the harm caused by the capitalist system, which is maintained by force)
    3) The incentives of a capitalist system rule-out the possibility of anything but systemic change

    His analysis of the situation is entirely consistent with Marx. His conclusion, unfortunately, is absurd.

    Schendler correctly posits the problem of climate change in the context of its relationship to capitalist economics. He even goes further, illustrating that the present system creates economic conditions under which people are dependent upon this system of waste. So, he concludes, we must reform the system, seeking what I think could be called “eco-friendly” or “compassionate” capitalism.

    He fails to note that other political solutions exist.

    Linking economic activity to democratic structures is one possibility (at the very least it allows the option that other economic systems can be explored). Parecon is one such model.

    Alternatively, the existing system could be eradicated entirely.

  31. @#35: I wish that were true, but it’s not. The reason it’s not is because only a small percentage of the population is willing to *do* the small things you’re talking about. And many of the small things that well-intentioned people do, like buying “green” products, actually cause more harm than good.

    Sure, you doing your small part to make a difference will postpone climate change, but by such a small fraction that, by itself, it’s pointless. It’s when you do things that tempt other people to do what you’re doing that you make a difference. So if you have an energy-inefficient house, and you spend money to make it substantially more efficient, and consequently it’s more comfortable summer and winter, and saves enough money to pay the cost of the renovations in a reasonable time, and you show all your friends, and they do the same thing, *that* makes a difference.

    But if you just keep the thermostat at 50 degrees all winter to save energy, all that’s going to do is drive away your friends.

  32. Some comments in addition to my earlier, accidentally anonymous, post #21

    I chafe at the idea that we’re asking for regulation on the rest of the world but not us. Not true. We’re hugely energy intensive and carbon regulation would have a very large impact on our business. We are asking for it–like Duke Energy, like GM and GE–because it will, in the end, protect our business.

    To # 38, (anonymous of course! people need to man-up and put names on their comments)which suggests I or we aren’t implementing any changes ourselves, or are reluctant to. Are you kidding me? ASC has done more than most businesses, from utility scale solar, micro hydroelectric, to 4 LEED buildings replacing old hogs, to millions of dollars in boiler, HVAC and lighting retrofits, to policy (testifying to congress on climate); millions of dollars in bus subsidies and campaigns to improve mass transit. Details at http://www.aspensnowmass.com/environment. But what we realized, and this gets and the voluntary small action camp, is that even if every human and every business that was so inclined did all the little things, we’d fail to solve climate by an order of magnitude. Because it just isn’t on most people’s radar, and we have to solve this thing in a decade, unlike other problems we’ve solved by slow, grassroots movements. So we needed to get at big scale policy solutions to climate. And it turns out that Aspen provides an effective soapbox and we can reach politicians. I’m not saying “don’t do the little stuff” I’m saying “do it all, but don’t be deluded that that is the solution, or that it’s enough.” we have to cut co2 emissions 80% by 2050. We have to put solutions in place in a decade. So if you were a business, how would you make that happen? What would you do, other than shut down? And I repeat–if we really should shut down, then you need to talk to 40,000 employees in Colorado who need a job after the ski industry goes away because it’s too wasteful. Meanwhile, take a look at the state of the environment in collapsed economies.

    1. I am #38, so I think you’re responding to me. Point of fact though: I am not anonymous, I am pseudonymous. This means that, if you wanted, you could easily find out who I am by clicking through a few links.

      OK, so first, yes, I was wrong to imply that you were not making any changes yourself. I take that back.

      But you seem bewildered by all the hating, so let me explain how it looks from where I’m sitting.

      You work for a big, energy intensive, luxury industry. That’s fine with me. It’s not what I’d want to do, but hey, it’s your life.

      You do various ‘green’ things — solar panels, insulated buildings, etc — as part of your core business. Fair enough. It’s probably cost effective to divert some of your promotional budget into some of this ‘rinky dink’ stuff. Obviously the bottom line works for your company or else they wouldn’t be doing it. Meanwhile it makes you feel good and it makes your clients feel good too. Plus it presumably actually reduces your carbon footprint, albeit by an amount that you yourself consider negligible. On the whole then, it’s more or less win-win all round.

      So far so good. But now it gets tricky.

      In your value system, a large carbon footprint is bad. This is a problem for you because, oops, you’re working for a company that has a large carbon footprint. So how do you reconcile these inconvenient facts without negatively impacting your own lifestyle or self-esteem? Simple: you lobby to impose your values on everyone else! You salve your conscience by making it everyone else’s problem.

      And now, thanks to this wonderful new logic, it actually becomes essential for you to keep your well-paid, influential, carbon spewing position because otherwise no-one in the corridors of power will take you seriously.

      Surely you have to see that while this is wonderfully convenient for you, it doesn’t look so great from the perspective of all the 6 billion unprivileged regular Joes outside of your glamorous inner circle. I think the phenomenon is sometimes called ‘losing touch with your roots’. Aka ‘selling your soul to the devil’.

      Personally I don’t much like being told what to do by anyone. But being told what to do by a lobbyist who’s doing the exact friggin opposite is enough to chafe anyone’s ass.

  33. Auden:

    First, kudos for joining the thread under your own name.

    I don’t think that “let’s cut CO2 emissions by 80% while leaving the lifestyles of the rich and famous essentially untouched” is a strategy for success. If I’m going to give up my car and use public transit, or see my energy bill go from three percent of my annual take home to ten percent, I want to see the A-list advocates of a “global mandate” against AGW making comparable sacrifices in their standards of living.

  34. Notary Sojac:

    I agree with you in principle, I just don’t know how to make that happen. If we, as a resort, attempted a reduction in service, vs., say, trying to provide the same services with lower carbon impact, we would probably go out of business. If you can’t coerce people to change, what do you do? YOu need some structure that forces everyone to change all together. A carbon tax, or cap and trade, or cap and refund, would arguably hit the bigger energy users, like us, harder. So would, say, a tiered utility rate that charges bigger users more. We’re asked the utility to pass such a rate, and they are doing it regionally and have already done it in Aspen. Really the path to what you’d like to see happen is some sort of progressive tax on carbon. I think lifestyle and standard of living does then change, but I think you get at it through price signals on carbon, not through limited voluntary efforts. I lay out my thinking on this in more detail, and more coherently, in my book, http://www.gettinggreendone.com.

    1. There are a tremendous number of jobs tied up in industries which produce a lot of CO2 emissions.

      And I don’t think that the jobs in the ski resort industry, or the private jet industry, are of necessity more worth preserving than the jobs of coal miners, or the workers on the Hummer assembly line.

      So if miners must find other, greener jobs, so should Gulfstream pilots.

  35. But EVERY job is tied to CO2 emissions. I don’t think you can go put every CO2 intensive job out of business–you have to make the whole economy radically less carbon intensive. And anyway, HOW would you go about eliminating the carbon intensive jobs? It won’t be voluntary, because that wouldn’t scale. We would need to create the conditions for that, through carbon policy. When carbon is $100 per ton, some things will go away. Flying will become more difficult or stop entirely.Skiing probably doesn’t go away, it runs on wind power and becomes more regional. In a sustainable world, miners won’t go away, they’ll use less carbon intensive techniques to mine other things–rare earth metals for batteries, for example. An the wealthy will always be able to do things others can’t, unfortunately. Short of socialism, what I’m struggling with is how you propose to achieve your goals.

    1. I appreciate most of your argument — at least when the ski resorts are in Aspen or Northern Canadian locations, they are lesser fuel sinks than in, say, Dubai or Southern California.

      Also, although carbon taxes can create ridiculous situations of the rich buying the right to poison the poor downstream, surely it’s better than the current situation where they do it consequence-free!

      Some anti-luxury arguments are idealistic statements from die-hard environmentalists who don’t even use bleached toilet paper, but a lot of them seem influenced by an unrealistic and puritan viewpoint that entertainment is wrong. True or not, it won’t stop anyone. Ambitious yet realistic goals seem right, more likely to succeed, and more likely to expand towards environmental goals.

      Not that anyone should stop hoping or pushing, just that immediate and universal denial is both unlikely and unhelpful.

  36. I’m surprised how angry so many of these responses are. Think about it folks, are rich people really going to stop spending money at resorts, flying across the world to do frivolous things, etc? We’re going to live in some happy commie place where we all share the same things. uuh you really think so? When you say that the solution to “greening” things like luxury resorts is to shut them down, you are taking an irrelevant position. When you opt for only unrealistic and impossible solutions to our environmental problems you opt for continuing the status quo.

    Obviously the insane consumption levels of Aspen-like areas and luxury hotels is lame, but whining about doesn’t solve anything. And of course a lot of what now seem like “normal” lifestyles need to be scaled down or redefined. But in whatever green utopia we all want to live in, there will still be luxury resorts and nice places for rich people to spend their money because it is basic human nature. Ignoring basic human nature is one of the main reasons the green movement has failed so seriously in making much progress in the last few decades.

  37. Wow people sure are taking everything he says very literally.

    It doesn’t matter if I make the decision not to fly. That’s not gonna stop the plane. The plane’s still flying.

    This is called an example. In some cases it is not true, in most it is.

    Carbon taxes are not just going to put weight on the poor. They will also put massive amounts of weight on companies around the world (providing they’re not given massive subsidiaries like in Australia).

    Imagine this example (example, not going to be true for all situations):

    There is an extra tax put on electricity usage at homes.
    This means households have 2 choices.
    Pay more for electricity, or cut their usage.

    Some of the usage cuts are simple, turn lights off, etc.
    Some involve perhaps spending more money on ‘Green Appliances’. Suddenly demand for green appliances goes up 300% whilst older less green appliance demand drops.

    What sort of appliances do you think companies will start manufacturing more of?

    Their can also be rules put in place well before this level. Just start taxing companies right at the manufacturing plants.

    Every *toaster* you create that does not meet Level A Green Requirements will cost you X dollars in tax.

    Suddenly its in the companies interest to produce toasters that meet Level A Green Requirements.

    And please can nobody start crapping on about Free Markets. There is no such thing as a free market. All markets are affected by factors such as taxes, legislations, bailouts, subsidiaries, import requirements, etc, etc, etc. What is the problem with adding a very logical and necessary requirements that things are more efficient?

  38. Mr. Fricative:

    I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding what we are trying to do. You say: “Simple: you lobby to impose your values on everyone else! You salve your conscience by making it everyone else’s problem.” First, solving climate is not “imposing our values.” These are universal values, held be every country in the world. This is about the 6 million “average joes.” Second, do you get that if a carbon tax passes it would disproportionately hit us, and even affect our business, by making travel more expensive? Third: you’ve got to ask yourself what business should do, what its bigger lever is, if it really cared about solving climate and addressing the dire needs of the planet and the global population? What would you do if you were a business? “Shutting down” is a dumb answer. “Quitting” is a dumb answer. Last, I think you start to get it in the end with this: “it actually becomes essential for you to keep your well-paid, influential, carbon spewing position because otherwise no-one in the corridors of power will take you seriously.” Having worked in the nonprofit sector, where I had no power, I can tell you that in the corporate sector, with more power and influence, I can get more done. I can influence more change. To squander the huge leverage I have here would be self defeating. If I took your advice, and “saved my soul,” I’d be installing water pumps in Africa. I would feel good about myself doing that work too, but I would have missed the opportunity, for example, to file an Amicus brief on Mass. V. EPA. Which we did, and which won, and which is going to protect your future, as well as ours.

  39. “First, solving climate is not “imposing our values.” These are universal values, held be every country in the world.”

    Just because you write that as if it were true does not make it so. “Solving climate” means what – exactly?

  40. I was glad to read this interview here at Boing Boing. Outside of New York City, I find it to be one of the most fascinating studies of wealth sociology in the country.

  41. One thing I don’t see many people doing is pursuing the advent of a new energy generation technology.

    Getting beyond the ‘pop-inventions’ of the past decade (so-called ‘free energy’ machines), there is a glint of truth in some of the technology heretofore put off as ‘science no-friction.’ (I must apologize for this one).

    Seriously, though–and this is my own ‘2-cent postulate’–magnets are a very powerful thing. I’ve worked with neodymium magnets, and those things are very interesting. Magnetic motors? Electrogravitic levitation?

    Once we figure Gravity out, I think we’ll be on the way to satisfying our needs for all the clean electrical power we need and crave, as well as reducing emissions. The phrase ‘learn not to burn’ applies here, but in an altogether different manner.

    Warm Regards,

  42. I’m with Auden Schendler on the need for a general carbon tax, working its way through the entire economy and making energy use more expensive overall, driving down energy use in many sectors.

    But I’m also for higher energy taxes on the wealthy, who can afford it, and for prohibiting some grossly wasteful uses of energy. There is no reason anyone needs to own a house larger than 6000 square feet, for example.

    Some things that were just pretentious and unnecessary in the past are now anti-social, in the greenhouse world. As many of these postings suggest, the world’s middle classes won’t necessarily sign on for the steps necessary to rein in global climate change, without a fair contribution from the wealthy.

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