Steamboat Springs When looking at the major problems humanity is facing in the next 50 years - including terrorism, population growth, water and poverty - it often is argued that solving energy will solve the rest, Randy Udall said.
"All these things that were optional 10 years ago - efficiency, conservation - aren't going to be viewed as green. Instead, they'll be viewed as necessary," Udall said during his keynote address Saturday at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council's summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. Udall is the former director of the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency.
The two-day event, titled "The Sustainability Summit of Northwest Colorado: A Map to Green Living," was a new foray for the Sustainability Council. The idea sprang from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's annual economic summit, which changes topics each year but focused on sustainability in 2007.
In addition to keeping sustainability discussions on the forefront in Steamboat, the summit also gave new ideas to local groups and provided examples of where they can go in the future, said Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative.
Because the rising cost of oil eventually will drive green policy in the United States, solving energy issues is tantamount to preserving American prosperity in the coming decades, Udall said.
Most elements of the American way of life were designed in the early-to-mid twentieth century, a time when the United States was "drowning in oil," Udall said. It's no surprise that the ski industry really began taking off in the late 1940s, as the post-World War II United States became a major world oil supplier, he said.
But oil production peaked around 1970, and now the joint energy future of the American people ties all of our other problems together, including the current state of the economy, he said.
"When I read about trade deficits and the falling dollar and climate change, and the concerns middle class Americans have about the future, this is what it comes to," he said.
Places such as Steamboat Springs, which is rich in community involvement and environmental concern, have extra opportunity to push for sustainability ahead of the mainstream, Udall said.
"We all talk about sustainability, but I think we're going to reform that discussion," Udall said. "Everything has to be done now, so it's in harmony with today's energy realities."
In many ways, Colorado already has demonstrated its willingness to bring sustainability to the forefront. For one, the state elected Gov. Bill Ritter, who ran on a clean air platform in 2006, Udall said.
In 2004, voters decreed that Xcel Energy would be required to generate a portion of its electricity from solar power - the first time any state's citizens voted to require a utility to use any renewable energy, Udall said.
Concern about sustainability will pave the path to overcoming political divisions in favor of progress, he said.
"These policies aren't going to be Democratic or Republican - they're going to be bipartisan," Udall said. "And we don't have any time to waste.