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First, thanks all for the thoughtful comments...frequently rare in these pages. A few additional points.
LEED (it's not LEEDS), which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was created at a time when building "green" became popular and many builders, both commercial and residential, were engaged in "greenwashing," declaring that their buildings were energy efficient, environmentally friendly, etc., without any justification. Buyers were desperate for some kind of standard to discriminate among choices and LEED filled that gap.
Regarding the cost of buildings that meet LEED standards, my "poster child" for doing things right is the Poudre School District in Fort Collins. Their facilities people won national awards for designing and building schools that meet/exceed all the LEED standards. About 12 years ago, the City passed a bond issue to build/refurbish their schools. The school superintendent gave the facilities people the freedom to build "green" so long as they stayed within budget. There are a lot of details I could go into, but the punchline is that the Poudre District schools cost 10-15% less to build and 30-50% less to operate than conventional Front Range schools. I teach classes in sustainable engineering and have taken the students to Fort Collins to tour the school buildings and talk to the facilities folks.
Poudre's feat was accomplished not through some magic bullet technology, but by better project design and management. The reason LEED certified building tend to cost more is that the designers and constructors aren't very good at integrating the improved technologies and systems into the building design. Their approach is to do a conventional design and just add sustainable features on the top. I've termed this "accessorizing for sustainability."
Stu Reeve, Poudre's energy manager, has visited Steamboat several times to speak to the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. Sorta like preaching to the choir. Not sure if he's spoken to city or county officials.
Nothing is bad about a person being free to choose what's in their best interests. The ultimate owner ought to be fully informed about the issues, one of which is what it's going to cost him/her to operate and maintain it versus the purchase price. This is about having complete information.
Moreover, this isn't just about one buyer-seller transaction. Many cheap and low efficiency buildings places additional burdens on the City's energy, water and wastewater infrastructure. Required upgrades to meet the additional demands are paid for by taxes.
Are such burdens acceptable as long as they are paid for by the user? I don't think so. Regardless of who pays, more scarce resources are being used.
Hey, Scott. Explain your line of reasoning to the people and officials of New York City, who once thought that their infrastructure designs were sufficient to handle any storm event. Hurricane Sandy changed all that. Now the City and the state are revising their entire infrastructure, having recognized that historical storm data can no longer predict the future. The public and officials in the towns I referenced in my letter probably thought too that their buildings and infrastructure were just fine. I guess those of us who live here should all cross our fingers that record thunderstorms, perhaps during snow melt season, never hit us. Water does flow down hill (I trust we aren't going to argue that point.) and we sure have lots of hills around here, including a really big one. Gee, I wonder where that water will go.
When he lived here, Henry Savage and I frequently went toe to toe in the Steamboat Pilot and Today on sustainability and climate change issues. And, like many in this comment thread, Henry, a former Exxon employee, every so often used what social scientists call the Scientific Certainty Argumentation Method. That method, which goes under the delightfully appropriate acronym S.C.A.M., is a tactic that plays on our sense of fairness. Here's how it works. Find some article, paper, piece of data or just some wild statement that supports your position and challenge those in opposition to refute it. Never mind whether it's true or not. It doesn't matter. What it does do is fuzz up the issue and delay any meaningful action. In the case of climate change, this is just what its opponents want. It is important to realize that scientific certainty on climate change will never be achieved, especially if we leave the test of "certainty" in the hands of the climate change deniers.
I'm taking a cue from local defense attorney Chris Hammond's recent "tongue-in-cheek" letter to the editor about supporting the proposed Sleeping Giant Casino. Chris figured that the resulting increased crime rate would bring him more business.
With a motive similar to Chris's, I fully support all out, pedal-to-the-metal oil and gas drilling throughout Routt County. Heck, we need this energy! I say, go for it! We don't need no stinkin' monitoring wells. One's probably enough. Maybe let's just test the drinking water once in a while. Then if we find something, then we'll take care of it. Anyway, nothin's gonna happen. We know that these oil and gas folks always do the right thing.
So, thank you Citizens Supporting Property Rights group for helping restore my old business. You see, in my former career I led a national engineering organization that cleaned up hazardous waste sites, places where companies dumped toxic wastes without a clue of what might happen if this stuff ever got into ground and surface water. We made oodles of money treating groundwater, digging up contaminated soils, developing alternate water supplies, and other stuff. These companies figured they could do whatever they wanted with these wastes because it was done on their property, that is, until the neighbors started to complain.
Now, I'm gonna just sit back and wait. Extracting oil and gas through fracking is a low margin operation. Not enough money in it to put in proper controls and sufficient monitoring. Monitoring far from possible sources means that they'll be lots of contaminated area before anyone knows about it. That works for me! I'll be back in the hazardous site clean up business and the Citizens Supporting Property Rights group will be busy explaining why their property rights take precedent over their neighbor's property rights.
Had Bike Town USA asked me to rate Steamboat in terms of bicycle friendliness, I would have recommended a designation of tin-or maybe plutonium. While the City was busy painting bicycle logo "thingies" on the streets of Steamboat, the County road department was out resurfacing a stretch of County Road 14, turning a large part of a popular local cycling route into a dangerous and tooth filling loosening escapade. Obviously Steamboat is hoping to use their upgraded "gold" designation to attract more bike enthusiasts to the area and increase tourist revenues. Just hope that nobody looks past the advertising.
YVB, I see the "greening" efforts of the YVR, Ski Corp, the City, et al. as well-meaning but basically "feel good" efforts designed to communicate to their respective customers and constituents that something positive is being done and their concerns are being met. The question of whether what is being done is meaningful for addressing the consequences to our community resulting from a non-sustainable model for economic development is not discussed.
I was a member of the original Green Team formed in 2005 following a seminar by James McNeill on climate change. What started as a high level look at the issues surrounding sustainability eventually morphed into the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council (YVSC), an organization that takes a local (and perhaps more practical) look at what people want and can do in the short term regarding these matters.
YVSC programs like "Talking Green" and "Zero Waste" are useful but, in my view, do not address the sustainability-related issues that Steamboat Springs and Routt County are facing today. What happens to our local economy if the cost of fuel jumps by, say, 50%? What are the projected effects of global climate change on this area, and what are our adaptation choices? These and many other related issues are what we should be addressing, especially with a couple of County Commissioners that treat community values as an annoyance and a City Council that never met a developer it didn't like.
To Scott Wedel and others, I agree with most of what you said. However, plastic bags create problems that are disproportionately larger than their small contribution to the waste stream volume suggests.
I too think that much of what Steamboat Springs does in the way of being "green" is for public relations. With its resort-based economy competing with other resort communities, Steamboat's efforts are reputation driven, designed to show visitors how much they value the environment. From what I've been told, this is an important resort selling point. But at the same time, the City, Yampa Valley Recycles, and other organizations have created an effective and noteworthy recycling program that helps people figure out what they can do to recycle their stuff: not only plastic bags and cardboard, but electronics, clothing, construction materials, etc.
Still, all of these efforts are severely hampered by the fact that virtually none of the products and the associated packaging you and I buy were designed to be recycled or reused, hence the difficulty in having market forces do the work to address this problem. If something is designed to have no value at its end of use, then it gets dumped into the waste stream.
A lot of people who are a heck of a lot smarter than I am have thought about this broader design issue. Bill McDonough's book, "Cradle to Cradle" takes a new and innovative look at recycling and reuse. See http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm. For an important big picture view, read Garrett Hardin's 1968 essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons", available at http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_tragedy_of_the_commons.html. For a fun look at the issue, watch Annie Leonard's video, "The Story of Stuff" at http://www.storyofstuff.com/.
I teach a graduate distance learning course (Green Engineering Design and Sustainability) for the University of Florida. As it so happens, my opening lecture is about disposable plastic bags and the dilemma they pose for communities. Worldwide, over 500 billion are used each year, the majority of which are not recycled. They have become "urban tumbleweed" littering the landscape, clogging drains, floating in the oceans, washing up on beaches or ending up in the bellies of wildlife. This is not a good thing. In fact the situation has gotten so bad that many towns, cities and certain countries have placed taxes on the use of certain plastic bags or banned their use altogether.
How are bans on plastic bags working? Not well. San Francisco banned the use of plastic bags and found that people weren't using reusable bags all that much. Moreover, they switched back to paper bags and started double-bagging their groceries. And, as this article points out, paper bags are bulkier, heavier and they don’t degrade that much faster than plastic. They also don't handle certain types of grocery items like certain perishables and drippy things in poor packaging. Hence the need for double bagging.
The question I ask my students is this: "Since when did the bagging issue become my problem?" This is a packaging and distribution problem created by the seller, i.e., Walmart, City Market, et al., and pushed onto the consumer, i.e., you and me. For a while there, our local choices were to: (1) collect plastic bags for recycling and try to find where the stores were hiding the recycling bins if they had them at all, or (2) spend money for and carry around a reusable bag boldly printed with the store's advertising. Nice to see that Yampa Valley Recycles sells bags for only a dollar and has a better advertising message.
Bottom line... It's gratifying to learn that Safeway spokeswoman Kris Staaf is willing to share Safeway's bagging experiences in other communities. Better that she and other store representatives admit that they are the cause of the problem and start working hard to find a workable solution that takes the burden off of their customers.
Replying to Tubes... Perhaps it's my environmental engineering background. Perhaps it's because I lived in the Northwest for 13 years. But when I learned back in 2002 that somebody actually wanted to put a gravel pit in that spot my first reaction was, “You've got to be kidding! Nobody in his right mind would allow a gravel pit to be built in that spot. This doesn't even pass the laugh test.”
Yes, I know gravel pits of been there before, but that doesn't make it right or sensible. (See Grand Teton comment above.) Traveling out of town and heading up US 40 towards Rabbit Ears Pass, I've seen many a tourist stop along the way to marvel at the scenery and take a few family photos with the South Valley as a backdrop. It probably won't take an expert photographer to keep the pit out of the field of vision. But what comes next? More pits? Some other industrial facility? Perhaps a shopping center? Where does it stop, or will it stop?
Maybe what we need to do is give each tourist a copy of Photoshop when they check in at their hotel. That way, they can take any picture they want and fix the background later.
Living in Colorado for the last 15 years (and Steamboat Springs for seven) what I've had to learn is that when it comes to land, people here have markedly different values. Here it's, “This is my land! I can do with it what I darn well please and I don't give a hoot about anybody else!” Perhaps it's our close proximity to Houston, Texas, a place where scenic values and zoning seems to have been dirty words.
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