With Donald Trump winding back climate action at home, seeking to reopen coal mines, restart offshore drilling and withdrawing from the international climate agreement, many US states and cities are stepping up and taking action to reduce their emissions.

There are many inspiring stories from across the USA that have emerged since Trump’s election. But there are also decades worth of excellent and determined work in many cities and towns. The recent decision by the Town Council of Telluride in Colorado to “adopt a goal for the entire community of becoming carbon neutral” comes on the back of more than a decade’s efforts to reduce emissions.

Telluride is a former mining town in the south west of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It is located in a remote part of the state, in a dramatic canyon surrounded by peaks and is now famous for its skiing. Resort towns are often famous for extravagant lifestyles, but permanent residents often live with a much lower carbon footprint than ‘fly in, fly out’ visitors.  It has a permanent population of about 2,500 and a large amount of tourist and holiday accommodation (you might enjoy the mockumentary ‘The Lost People of Mountain Village’, which takes you through the ‘lost landscape’ of the purpose built Mountain Village, located very close to Telluride, which is often largely deserted outside of peak holiday season).

Telluride has a long history of working to reduce the impact of it’s carbon emissions. Recently Alec Jacobson of Mountain Independent, wrote an excellent summary of the town’s efforts since 2006, which is available here.

With the growing number of regional towns in north eastern Victoria working to reduce their emissions through community action and good policy, I wanted to share some of the learnings from the Telluride story as I understand them.

Its been a long journey:

Telluride has been working to reduce its carbon footprint for nearly 15 years. What originally started as an effort to reduce the greenhouse emissions produced by the town council’s direct operations through implementing energy efficiency measures has turned into a town-wide effort which has focused more on renewable energy in recent years.

  • In 2004 a report done for the Council identified 40 cheap and relatively simple steps, including weatherising buildings, replacing old lightbulbs, etc to reduce emissions created by Council operations. It suggested that energy consumption in town buildings could be cut by 20-25% by 2010
  • In 2005, the town signed onto two external emission reduction programs with the aim to reduce municipal building and operations emissions by 7% by 2012 and to invest in alternative energy sources
  • When emissions didn’t go down, in 2007 the local government initiated a community outreach program, Telluride Unplugged, in order to generate community support for emissions reduction programs
  • The Council also called for a more ambitious emissions goal, setting the town’s sights on dropping its emissions 15% by 2010 and another 15% by 2015. And the town also included a goal of reducing emissions in the 2006 Master Plan
  • Despite these efforts, emissions remained above baseline levels as the town increased its staff and services alongside Telluride’s growing population and tourist visits
  • As a result, the Council expanded the baseline emissions data beyond municipal facilities and services emissions, surveying the greenhouse gas emissions of the Telluride community as a whole
  • It was found that the largest source of Telluride’s emissions came from the electricity and natural gas needed to power and heat homes and commercial buildings, so a decision was taken to look into sourcing renewable energy
  • Telluride mayor Stu Fraser committed to the town running on 100% renewable energy sources by 2020
  • The town installed solar panels on the roof of the wastewater treatment plant as its first significant investment in renewable energy
  • in 2014, the Town entered into an agreement to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from a new local hydro facility and decided to only buy local RECs. This in turn helped drive the further local development of renewable energy
  • the change in focus – from efficiency to electricity production contributed to an additional 21% emissions reductions
  • In August 2017, Telluride’s Town Council voted to raise the bar on climate action, announcing the intention for “the Town of Telluride to adopt a goal for the entire community of becoming carbon neutral.”

People living in mountain areas or who are skiers/ riders or reliant on good snow for their employment are often keenly aware of the impacts of climate change on winter. It’s great to see this sort of long term community-based efforts to reduce emissions locally.


Image: By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA – Telluride Uploaded by PDTillman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11665646