Taking small steps to a carbon-free future
February 17, 2021
It’s no secret that Americans have a heavier impact on the planet than our counterparts around the world. We emit more carbon mainly because we drive big, gas-guzzling cars and have larger homes to heat and power.
We know that large-scale, systems-level change is what’s needed to tackle this problem. Governments, utilities, and industry can make bigger dents in decarbonization than individuals. (Check out this post for tips on how to support big, bold climtate action.) And that’s what will determine the livability of our planet for generations to come.
But if you’re concerned about climate change, living in accord with your values is the right thing to do. It’s not ony self-affirming to reduce your environmental impact, but it also sets a good example. With enough participation, individual action only bolsters the movement toward a carbon-free future.
Here are a few ways you can walk the carbon-reduction talk.
1. Find out what your carbon footprint is
There are dozens of carbon footprint calculators online. The EPA offers one that’s simple, straightforward, and action oriented. Plug in information on your home energy usage, vehicle miles, and waste generation. and the calculator shows the carbon emissions of each item. It also offers ways to reduce those emissions. A final report compares your household emissions to the US average and summarizes the carbon impact of your planned actions. It even shows what would happen if 100 friends took the same action.
2. Start on the home front
In Pitkin County, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — 63% — are buildings. On the flip side, there’s a lot you can do to reduce those emissions. Homeowners should start by contacting the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), a nonprofit that helps Roaring Fork Valley residents cut carbon emissions and save energy. CORE’s services range from low-cost home energy assessments to the Path to Zero, a custom consultation program to help your home reach zero net emissions.
Electric co-op Holy Cross offers members several efficiency and clean-energy programs. PuRE, for example, adds a small surcharge on your electric bill to power your home with 100% renewable electricity.
3. Gotta Move: Choose clean energy transportation
When it comes to getting around, we’re lucky to have a lot of clean options in the Roaring Fork Valley. The cleanest is walking- which shouldn’t be hard to incorporate into a routine with 25 miles of trails around Aspen.
Biking is next on the heirarch. Every mile pedaled instead of driven keeps one pound of carbon-emissions out of the atmosphere! That’s according to We-Cycle, the first rural bike share system in the US. We-Cycle now has 46 stations throughout Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Basalt, offering short rides around town for free.
Another great option is the bus. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) is the nation’s largest rural transit system, and it can get you almost anywhere in the valley.
If you must drive, owning an electric vehicle (EV) is getting a whole lot easier in Colorado, which has a target of 940,000 EVs by 2030. Governor Jared Polis wants to transition to zero-emission vehicles by offering incentives on buying them and installing charging stations in every corner of the state. There are already dozens of charging options throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
4. You are what you waste
Waste generation is often the third-largest source of household carbon emissions. What we throw away adds up to 2,766 pounds of carbon emissions for a four-person household. Recycle cans, glass, plastic, newspapers and magazines and that can be cut down to 1,602 pounds. Luckily, there are robust recyling programs in the valley. The City of Aspen and Town of Carbondale mandate waste haulers to include the cost of recycling with trash pickup. And the Pitkin County landfill accepts a wide range of recyclables that can’t be picked up at the curb.
Composting offers more benefits. More than one-third of the material that goes into the county landfill is compostable. And the food waste that’s buried there — 3,700 tons per year — generates methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. By composting, you prevent those emissions while creating a product that helps sequester carbon. That’s a win-win for the climate. Aspen and Pitkin County offer free compost containers through the SCRAPS program. Local compost hauler EverGreen ZeroWaste (one of two in the valley) composted over 5.7 million pounds in 2020, equal to the annual emissions of more than 114,000 cars. More local restaurants are signing on to compost, especially in Carbondale (or “Compostdale” as some call it). In Aspen, show your love to compost fans Local Coffee House, Meat and Cheese, Bear Den, Big Wrap, and City Market.
5. Recreate locally
We are incredibly privileged in the Roaring Fork Valley to live in recreation heaven. For many of us, a short drive, bus or bike ride, or walk takes us to some of the best skiing, hiking, biking, river running, and fly fishing in the world. Most recreational activities don’t have much of a carbon footprint on their own. It’s traveling to and from your favorite jam that produces the most emissions. Take skiing: Only 2 percent of emissions comes from lifts, snowmaking, and other mountain infrastructure. Visitor travel generates 73 percent, 2007 French study.
So consider ditching the Ikon Pass and sticking to the slopes closer to home. Aspen Snowmass has been tracking its emissions since 2000, and has reduced them from 46 pounds per skier day to 30 pounds in 2019. Embrace uphilling or cross-country skiing, which have seen a surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of mountain biking in Moab, try the ever expanding network of trails from Glenwood to Rifle. Or explore the over 300 miles of singletrack that earned the Roaring Fork Valley an IMBA Gold-Level Ride Center designation, one of seven in the world. If you’re a hiker, fold into your routine trailes that are closer to home. And seek out ones accessible by bike or public transit.
We won’t reach the Paris Agreement’s climate goals by turning down the thermostat. Nor skiing locally. But if we commit to reducing carbon in our own lives, we help build momentum for larger change. After all, we’re all in this together.