n the years leading up to 2004, the City of Aspen worked to determined it’s community-wide Green House Gas (GHG) emission inventory. After witnessing frightening results, the following year Aspen released what is known as the “Canary Initiative”. In short, the Canary Initiative is a climate action plan that outlines Aspen’s future goals for limiting climate change and describing how those goals can be achieved.
But why is it called the Canary Initiative? As the old adage goes, coal miners would cage canaries and bring them into new coal mines for the first entry. If the bird died as they entered the mine, the miner would know there were dangerous gasses (carbon monoxide) being released into the air and the miner would soon follow the bird if he didn’t escape the mine. What’s interesting, is that Aspen, like all mountain towns, are economically dependent on the winter snowpack for recreation and that snowpack to maintain water supply to the town throughout the summer. As a result of this, Aspen sees itself as the canary in the coal mine for climate change because populations will witness the adverse effects of GHG’s on our resources faster than cities at lower elevations (City of Aspen Canary Initiative).
This was back in 2005, let’s take a look at where we are today, this graph is also from the Aspen Canary Initiative:
As you can see, we have made some significant strides in the past 10 years, however, now more than ever we can’t get complacent. As more people begin to flood into our mountain communities, it’s going to take more of a focus on how we can lower the energy intensity for our economy and continue to push towards 100% renewable energy. Aspen has set their sights on attaining a 30% reduction in Co2 by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Thanks to the Canary Initiative, we are continuing to adjust and stride towards new goals. If we can continue to focus on what’s important in our own towns, regionally it will make a difference and in turn, generate a level of importance on a State level to make an even greater difference.
What’s exciting is that Aspen has recently earned it’s fame in the climate change battle as it became the third American city to make the transition to 100% renewable energy! Through diversifying green sources (53% wind, 46% hydroelectric and 1% landfill gas), Aspen has made a huge dent in our carbon footprint. Last year in 2014, this was the break down for the sources of GHG emissions:
As you can see, residential and commercial energy make up more than half of the chart. Now that Aspen is 100% renewable, we are all looking forward to seeing those numbers drop dramatically! With the guidance of the Canary Initiative that started in 2005, coupled with movements like going 100% renewable has allowed the City of Aspen to reduce their total number of emissions by 42%, which is far more than their goal of 30% by 2020, in only a decade! (MacCormack)This gives the population of Aspen hope towards a cleaner future, and we can only continue to push the movement onwards and continue to live through the overarching goal of the Canary Initiative:
It’s often times hard to find optimism in such a doom and gloom topic, but if Aspen can find ways, so can any other towns. As we are the canary, it will be increasingly important for Aspen and other mountain towns to lead the charge on climate change. I will leave you with this powerful quote:
“Establishing a goal and creating an action plan are only the beginning. Impressive achievements in building energy efficiency, transportation, recycling, and renewable energy have already helped and will continue to help Aspen reduce per capita emissions. However, significant political and community will is needed if these goals and the challenges presented by global warming are to be met. Ultimately, meeting this challenge will be a direct result of individual action that drives a revolution” (City of Aspen Canary Initiative).
- City of Aspen Canary Initiative | Climate Action plan; www.canaryinitiative.com | 2005
- Jen MacCormack; “Aspen Now Running on 100% Renewable Energy”, Earthtechling.com | Oct 11, 2015