by Auden Schendler
Fracking isn’t only happening in the gas fields. Because of the never before seen and almost impossible to grok (or solve) problem of climate change, fracking is happening all over the environmental movement.
Moms are fighting kids. Boards are fighting staff. Nonprofits are fighting each other. Left is fighting right and left. Republicans are getting sick of their weird and lame leaders, like Romney, Gingrich, and McCain who clearly understood climate science until they didn’t understand it, and are spinning off on their own to fix the thing.
Just this year, I supported state legislation on a key climate issue—capturing methane from coal mines—and was opposed by an NGO I’m on the board of, and another one I’ve supported for years. In fact, I was fighting all my colleagues and friends in the environmental world—except for those who agreed with me.
Just last week I hiked with my friend Pete McBride, a green too, who didn’t quite agree with me on a local hydroelectric project. And last week, the business I work for partnered with a coal mine to protect climate. To quote Steve Austin: “I can’t hold her, she’s breaking up! She’s breaking up!” Or as Vince Lombardi pointedly asked: “What the hell is going on out here?!!”
What’s going on out here is that Boulder and Colorado Springs recently looked like bad movie sets: They’ve been on fire. Sea level rise is accelerating. Temperature records are getting destroyed. Greenland’s ice sheet is destabilizing. The jackass in the local paper who keeps writing that we haven’t warmed since 1998 has finally shut his pie hole. People are eying the dry brush in their yards with a combination of paranoia and terror. Climate change might as well be called GAME change: it’s disruptive innovation all on its own. And it’s a monster.
The International Energy Agency, those staid, dusty scriveners, recently said the planet is on a perfect trajectory for 11 degrees F warming by 2100. Doesn’t matter what you believe: That kind of warming won’t be “good for us” (as at least one simpleton at National Review has argued) or is simply “an engineering problem” as ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson idiotically claimed the other day. When your house is underwater or blown away, or if a country’s crops fail, or if Malaria kills your five year old girl, it’s not an “engineering problem.”
It’s that stark nature of the problem that has us eating each other alive. Look at me—I’m losing all decorum in this essay! In Aspen, CO, old school enviros who helped create the wilderness movement are fighting pitched battles against other environmentalists who support a 1 MW microhydro plant that would generate 8% of the city’s power. “Protect the stream!” They yell. Climate activists, including the mayor, are fighting back, arguing that you lose the river anyway if you don’t solve climate. Somebody’s got to lead because everywhere is somebody’s backyard.
And if Aspen—as a center of wealth and influence that can afford to try stuff and share those stories—can’t lead, then it might as well throw in the towel and default to just doing conspicuous consumption. Solving climate is going to hurt. We’re going to break things. And we’re starting with our relationships, friendships, and old alliances. There is a kernel of hope in this, and it’s that whenever an issue become so large it starts to cost you friendships, that means it’s front and center in the public conversation. Civil Rights. Gay Marriage. Remember that taxation without representation split Ben Franklin from his son. And once a topic gets into the public blood, it’s on its way to resolution.
Alliances will be the first to go, fracked forever or sometimes replaced by weird new bedfellows, like the kind of date you might pick up at the Star Wars bar. This month, as I mentioned, my business inked a deal to capture methane vented from a coal mine—one of the largest point sources greenhouse gases in Colorado—to make electricity. The power produced is triple carbon negative because methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas and this project destroys it. Our partner is a coal mine that carries membership in the Colorado Mining Association, which is a state climate denial machine that on its website cites a Fox report called “Global Warming: The Great Delusion.” Uncomfortable? Hells yes. But desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s a whole new world.
Auden Schendler is Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company.