Featured Stories

I am Climate I am change

What do you love about the mountains? Chances are it’s skiing, snowboarding, rafting, kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, hunting, hiking, wildflowers, bug-free camping, cool summers, biking, rock climbing, wildlife, majestic pines – and not to mention – fresh air and clean water. It’s what I love too, but everything we cherish about living and vacationing in the Rockies is at risk because of climate change. Everything.

Mountain regions are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to their complex water systems and ecology. Communities within the mountains are vulnerable, too, as their economy, like Eagle County’s, is driven by outdoor fun and outdoor fun is driven by climate.

Just as the global temperature is rising, so is Colorado’s – by 2.0 degrees over the past 30 years, according to Climate Change in Colorado, a report written by Jeff Lukas, Associate Scientist, CIIES (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences), University of Colorado, Boulder. These warming temperatures, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, are changing the mountain’s ecosystem. The timing of snowmelt and peak runoff has shifted earlier in the spring by 1 to 4 weeks across Colorado’s river basins over the past 30 years (also from Lukas’ report). This affects rafting, fishing and has impacts on the overall health of the rivers and reservoirs, including spread of disease and increase in non- native species. Wildlife is changing patterns, too. Marmots are coming out of hibernation a month earlier, for example. Scientists project other changes, like decline in snowpack, increase in wildfires and change in water quality—if we don’t stop the warming.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a per capita basis are higher in Eagle County than in any other place in Colorado or in the U.S., according to 2014 Eagle County Energy Inventory report. Wow, you should read that statistic again because it’s a biggie. The Eagle County community spends $243.5 million annually on energy expenses. Emissions are so high because, as a resort community, we have more second homes, hotels and energy intensive recreation facilities. These amenities are needed to drive our economy, but they no longer have to be (or can’t be) so energy intensive.

“Climate change is tough to talk about. What’s invisible, odorless and no one wants to talk about?” Kim Langmaid asks, founder, vice president and director of Sustainability and Stewardship Programs at Walking Mountain Science Center in Avon. “But the window of opportunity is right now to take fast action against GHG emissions. We have a particular responsibility to take action and be leaders because we are so dependent on the climate. Our pure livelihood is at stake because of the recreational lifestyle we all have.”


Langmaid, along with 30 other stakeholders in Eagle County, wrote The Climate Action Plan for the Eagle County Community, a report that sets a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County by 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. The plan establishes strategies and actions to help hit that target. If the community as a whole became 10 percent more energy efficient, $24 million could stay in the local economy, according to the energy inventory report. Imagine if we hit the 25 percent target?

These targets are in line with the recent recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. These scientists predict if we hit these reduction goals, the global community can keep the warming under the 2.0 degree threshold, avoiding a climate tipping point.

“As the global average temperature increases more than 2.0 degrees than it normally has been in our time as humans on the planet, we will be living on a world that we have no understanding of. It will be a completely different operating system, and we don’t know what it looks like,” Langmaid says, who has a PhD in Environmental Studies from Antioch University, New England. “We already are committed to a certain amount of warming, but if we can act now, we can keep it within the 2.0 degree threshold.”

The saying never gets old: Be the change. I am climate, and I am change. The following is the call to action piece of this story. You know the science, you know what’s at stake, and finally, here’s what you can do – from simple lifestyle changes to big investments with big carbon cuts to speaking up to local legislators to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and hit the target.

The saying never gets old: Be the change. I am climate, and I am change. The following is the call to action piece of this story. You know the science, you know what’s at stake, and finally, here’s what you can do – from simple lifestyle changes to big investments with big carbon cuts to speaking up to local legislators to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and hit the target.


The single largest source of emissions in Eagle County, at 39 percent, was from generation of electricity used to power residential and commercial buildings and facilities. So one of the biggest ways to cut your carbon footprint is to make your home or commercial building more energy efficient.

The lowest hanging fruit is to switch all of your incandescent bulbs to LED ones. Switch 25 and you cut 1 ton of carbon pollution, according to the Climate Action Plan. A hot air balloon is the equivalent of one ton of CO2. Visualize 25 hot air balloons rising above Eagle County, lifting away pollution, just because you changed a light bulb.

But beyond that, knowing what would make your home more energy efficient can be tough to navigate. Local sustainability experts all say the same thing: Get an Energy Smart Colorado audit and make the recommended changes. The Energy Smart program, located in Walking Mountains in Avon, is a one-stop-shop for home energy efficiency.

“We do an energy assessment of your home, we make a clear report and priority list of the work that needs to be done, and we connect you with incentives and rebates and the right contractors to do the work,” John-Ryan Lockman says, Energy Smart Energy Programs manager.

Common energy improvements include everything from sealing cracks to tightening the home’s envelope and reduce energy leaks to upgrading appliances and boiler systems with Energy Star or other more efficient models.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and a lot of people get their energy bill and just pay it without really looking at it,” Lockman says. “Your energy bill is very revealing. It will tell you if something strange is going on, like a higher bill in summer than in winter.”

Lockman says there are two common energy wastes happening in the valley. Homeowners tend to leave their snowmelt systems running, as well as the heat tape on their roofs, all summer long, literally using their boiler to heat the outside world. Just looking at your bill—and training a property manager—would catch that mistake, he explains.

For this very reason, Lockman also recommends investing in a “smart thermostat,” like the Nest model, that learns your heating and cooling habits and remembers those habits for you. It knows you come home from work at 5, for example, it turns on the heat, and it knows you like to turn the heat down before bed, and it does it for you.

“But it always goes back to using only what you need, when you need it,” Lockman says. “Don’t heat 10 bedrooms in a home if you are only using 2. Just heat the space you are living in. Real savings comes from efficiency plus conservation.” Using renewable energy to offset your home’s carbon footprint is a great way to reduce your overall energy demand. Solar is getting cheaper every day, and when you install 1KW of solar electric, about three panels, you cut one ton of carbon pollution, according to the Climate Action Plan. Solar systems are also eligible for rebates through Holy Cross Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program. You can purchase blocks of wind power through Holy Cross’ Wind Power Pioneers program, too

“Holy Cross Energy has achieved more than 30 percent renewable energy, but this year is undertaking a new greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan, which will examine our portfolio of resources, new technology, and more renewable energy projects to increase that number as much as feasible,” Kristen Bertuglia says, who serves on Holy Cross’ Board of Directors and is Town of Vail’s Environmental Sustainability manager. “In the not-so distant future, energy storage will make solar even more applicable, if we can use it during our peak energy times, which in our area starts after 5 p.m.”


What you throw away in the landfill, although at times forgettable, has huge impacts on the climate. Methane, the greenhouse gas that results from anaerobic decomposition of organic waste in the landfill, is 84-times more potent than CO2 in the first 20 years it’s released. Translation: Methane is even better at warming the planet than CO2.

The best way to reduce methane (which is about 10 percent of the GHG emissions in Eagle County) is to remove organic waste – things like food scraps, yard waste and wood – from the landfill through composting.

If you have enough land, you can (and should) start a backyard composting pile. But many of us must wait and rely on municipalities to launch a commercial composting program to divert our organic waste. In Eagle County, the wait is almost over.

“Commissioners signed an agreement in October 2016 with Vail Honeywagon to provide funding support for development of a composting facility at their site near the landfill. My understanding is that approval process and construction activities are planned for this year, with operating start-up in fall 2017,” John Gitchell says, Eagle County’s Environmental Sustainability coordinator.

The composting program is part of Eagle County’s larger goal to divert 30 percent of total waste by 2030. Organic waste is 37 percent of total weight of trash in the landfill, Gitchell says.

“Diverting the entire 30 percent organic portion of our total waste through composting would increase our current diversion rate to 50 percent, and reduce total county emissions by 42,000 metric tons CO2 per year – the same benefit as taking 8,800 cars off the road or 4,400 homes off the grid,” Gitchell says.

So when it’s ready, use the composting program. But until then, there are simple lifestyle choices to produce less trash. Think about the carbon impact of everything you buy. Think about your stuff’s life cycle. How was it manufactured? How far did it travel to get to you? Can it be reused? Can you recycle it? Is there an option with less packaging? Can you borrow this item or buy it used instead of buying new? Think about your trash and produce less.

Bring your own bags when shopping. Avoid plastic packaging (that means plastic water bottles) because it has a very limited number of times it can be recycled, unlike glass or metal. In fact, try to reduce the amount of packaging all together by buying in bulk or buying loose products, like fresh fruits and vegetables, as opposed to packaged foods. And in the end, recycle it.


The majority of GHG emissions from transportation are generated from passenger vehicles. The Eagle County community faces a significant challenge due to Interstate 70 and the many vehicles that pass through the county. But there are ways to save energy on the road. Take advantage of the town’s free bus service or carpool with friends. As the network of electric vehicle charging stations expand in the county, maybe it’s time for you to buy an electric car. Or, the healthier option, bike more and drive less.

“I bought an electric bike and use it for commuting. I can wear my work clothes and it’s a breeze to ride to my meetings, and it makes you feel good. I did not get in my car and it felt really good,” Langmaid says. In fact many of the stakeholders involved in the Climate Action Plan vowed to buy an electric bike as a personal action against climate change.


Growing your own food at the many community gardens in Eagle County or buying locally grown food at the farmers market in summer is a tasty, healthy and relatively easy lifestyle change you can make to lessen your carbon footprint. Take it a step further and reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet. Meat and dairy production accounts for 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a stat to chew on from the Environmental Working Group: If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes. If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just 1 day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.


“Actions you can take at home and changes in your day-to-day life are important, but it’s not enough to make a massive, drastic impact around climate change, which is why Protect Our Winters (POW) encourages that extra step of political advocacy,” says Lindsay Bourgoine, advocacy and campaign manager for POW. “We need strong government policies, strong incentives to help people make these changes on an individual level.”

POW is a crew of professional athletes and industry brands working to mobilize the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action, since snow sports are at stake due to warming temperatures. People like Auden Schendler of Aspen Ski Company and outdoor pros like Gretchen Bleiler, Conrad Anker and Jeremy Jones, POW’s founder and president, are on their team.

They focus on education and community-based activism, but number one on the “POW Seven” take action list is “get political.” Bourgoine says the best way is to pick up the phone and call your legislators, even if it’s something as simple as sharing a feeling that you care about climate change and loss of snowpack. Emails are not as effective, she adds, because congressmen know how easy it is to copy and paste.

POW makes it easy for you to get political by providing scripts and numbers to call. “It can be scary and intimidating to call your congressman, but he’s not going to debate you on the phone, you are leaving a message,” she says. “POW hopes to break down the barrier and make it accessible for people to be politically active.” It’s up to each of us. We are climate. We are change.


Individual action against climate change is important, but it’s not enough to cut Eagle County’s greenhouse gas emissions. It will take big community players and political action to bring about strong policies and big sustainable changes. Here’s what some of our community’s biggest players are doing to mitigate climate change. Like what you read? Let them know you care about climate.

Eagle County
After adopting the Climate Action Plan, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the county’s six focus areas. In addition to the upcoming composting facility, the county swapped its fleet of SUVs with Prius and tightened up leaky buildings to improve on Eagle County’s biggest contributor to GHG emissions — homes and commercial buildings. The county purchased two solar farms, which offsets electricity in county buildings saving the taxpayers a whopping $290,000 annually. “I love this stat: The solar farms are the equivalent of taking 377 cars off the road or 263 homes off the grid,” County Commissioner Jill Ryan says.

Actively Green Businesses
Actively Green, a sustainability training and certification program run by Walking Mountains, is a way businesses can learn to track their energy use, and thus reduce it. There are about 50 businesses enrolled (complete list on, and supporting those businesses is a great way to vote for a sustainable community with your dollar. One Actively Green business worthy of a shout out is the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail Village. Some examples of Sonnenalp’s efforts include changing to LED lights and reducing energy use by 34 percent in each room to more operational changes, like shutting off floor heat in guest rooms during summer and maximizing times when pools and hot tubs remain covered. The hotel’s web site ( posts the full, impressive list of carbon cutting changes they’ve implemented.

Vail Resorts
Vail Resorts is committed to energy and emission reductions and forest health. VR has met its goal to reduce energy use by 10 percent and is now going for “The Next 10,” VR’s commitment to reduce its overall energy use by another 10 percent by 2020. “Our operations teams are continually looking for and implementing ways to reduce our impacts and emissions,” says Fritz Bratschie, Vail Resorts’ Regional Sustainability Manager. “We have made some big investments in areas such as snowmaking infrastructure, green building, lighting, refrigeration, grooming and lifts.”

Town of Vail
As part of the Town of Vail’s existing Environmental Sustainability Strategic Plan, the town has updated all facilities with energy conservation measures, and converted every last bulb inside and out to LED technology. This has led the town to a 33 percent reduction in electricity use, according to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail’s Environmental Sustainability Manager. The town has also “right sized” vehicles, adding more hybrid vehicles and hybrid electric buses. Town has also cut water use by 40 percent. The town has also begun incentivizing its employees to participate in the Sole Power Challenge, a green commuting challenge, by offering 25 cents per mile. “It is a great way to get people out of their cars,” Bertuglia says.