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  • Writer's pictureJacquelyn Francis

Climate Corner: Why write a climate column?

The city of Aspen and the people of the Roaring Fork Valley are globally recognized for all types of leadership in athleticism (how many Olympians?), business (how many billionaires?), science (have you been to the Aspen Center for Physics lectures?) and pop culture.

But the question that must be answered is: Are we succeeding in global climate leadership? How does one of the most affluent communities in the world become the “city on the hill” that leads the way when it comes to the climate crisis?

Future climate stability requires transitioning beyond almost everything that built wealth over the last century — not just in Aspen, but in every corner of the world. Can Aspenites thread the needle between a wildly lavish lifestyle and preservation of planetary health and stability? Let’s chart the course together — in a new monthly climate column. 

The annual average global temperature is tracking upward in scientifically-studied correlation with global emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide and methane). This isn’t difficult to measure and understand. The properties of greenhouse gases have been studied, monitored and documented for centuries. Precise measurements showing significant increases in these gases have been going on since 1958, and a number of highly accurate modeling techniques provide definitive data going back millennia. I, too, have spent most of my adult life studying atmospheric and oceanic processes, climate chemistry and applied mathematics.

Navigating the energy transition and the pathways forward to a world beyond the climate crisis will take more than just simply understanding the science. The conversation will move forward when we start seeing the yellow-brick road toward the future filled with renewable ways of fueling cars, powering homes, reducing waste and using our waste for energy and products. Humanity can focus on a world where minimizing waste creates abundance and opportunity — both in financial choices and improvement of health for all. 

But now I want to talk about hypocrisy. It’s a struggle for all climate-conscious people, especially those of us who live in or visit Aspen — my hometown for over 50 years. We can look at this through the lens of guilt, or we can choose to set a course for change. 

Currently, I’m about to get on a plane to Dubai, the location of 2023’s International Climate Conference (COP28). Which, I might add, is on the other side of the planet. There is no justification for the carbon footprint for me to fly around the world, but how do I turn my guilt into leadership, and how do I turn my own hypocrisy into opportunity? 

On my first evening in Dubai, I’m meeting with the CEO of a company making waste materials (municipal waste, woody biomass, captured carbon) into products — including clothing and jet fuel. This technology is expensive but proven, and it is in high demand. It isn’t using cropland to create low-quality biofuel, but using the current high-tech innovation to make products that commercial airlines and consumers are begging for. This is only one of thousands of opportunities for humanity to choose better. 

Throughout my two weeks in Dubai, I’ll be meeting up with countless innovators, eager investors, passionate activists and major decision-makers. Bridging the chasm between living with wealth wastefully and using your abundance strategically is the key to Aspen’s global role. Hypocrisy doesn’t have to be paralyzing; it should be the route to self-reflection and authentic leadership.

After all, what good is the world’s best ski town without any snow (in the not-too-distant future)? 


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