At the end of 2015, we launched the San Juan Independent out of Telluride with the core belief that the small towns of our region have big stories that deserve rich coverage. Sometimes, it’s critical to dive deeply into a single moment in time, while, in other cases, it’s useful to back away from the day to day decisions to look at the full arc of a complicated issue.
Here, in our first edition of the Mountain Independent, we aim to do both as we look at how our small, rural mountain communities relate to one of the biggest issues of our time: climate change.
In Aspen, the Canary Initiative has already measured an average temperature increase of 2.4°F since 1940 as well as a 34 day increase in the number of frost-free summer days since 1980. In Jackson, the Charture Institute has measured growing aridity, as rising temperatures have caused more rain in the winter, and faster evaporation and transpiration throughout the year. Following the same warming trend, the Mountain Pact lobbying group, notes that wildfires have burned 57% more land in the last decade than in the previous 40 years.
And this year, ski resorts around the West have delayed opening their slopes by weeks. In Telluride, where I live, we have only 37% of the snow that we would normally have to date and it has stayed too warm at night to fill in the gaps with the snow guns.
At the same time, while mountain economies are threatened by climate change, our carbon footprints are above the national average.
Nonetheless, our communities are well positioned to make a meaningful contribution based on the same small town/big story premise of this publication.
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As small towns, where everybody knows their neighbors and every vote counts, we are nimble. If we decide to make changes, there are fewer hearts and minds to shift and fewer variables to adjust. Every vote counts and every voice can make a difference.
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Even more importantly, when we move, people notice. Our communities are hotbeds of global intellectual activity, hosting heads of state and thought leaders at events like the Aspen Ideas Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm and Allen & Co.’s annual Sun Valley conference.
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And because we are in a position to lead, we must continue to take significant action. Not because climate change threatens our sacred powder turns but because the same shifts are already driving conflict, mass exodus and massive destruction from the Sahara to the Maldives to America’s Gulf Coast.
In this first issue of the Mountain Independent, we cannot offer a comprehensive guide for our many communities to lead the charge against climate change, but we hope that we can, with the case studies presented, offer governments, organizations and individuals some paths forward and the inspiration to follow them.
We are small towns, but we have big voices. What will you do with yours?
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