The event, founded by AREDAY Executive Director Chip Comins in 2004, began as the result of a film he made and later screened for the Aspen City Council. The subject of the film was the Rosebud turbine, the country’s first utility-scale wind turbine installed on tribal lands – in this case those of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. While producing the film he learned that one-third of the country’s electricity could be generated by wind power on tribal lands.
Aspen City Council responded to the idea of wind power with such an outpouring of support that it sparked Comins’s brainstorm to hold a renewable energy street fair.
Comins described his conversation with the mayor following the screening.
“We should do a renewable energy day,” he suggested.
“Yes, you should,” she responded.
And thus, AREDAY was born.
AREDAY began as a one-day event created for the purpose of “promoting education and awareness of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies as practical solutions to global warming,” according to the nonprofit organization’s mission statement. Five years later, it has grown into a three-day conference.
The theme this year is “Engaging America’s Renewable Spirit,” and guests including outspoken media mogul, environmentalist and the country’s largest private landowner Ted Turner; composer and philanthropist Peter Buffett; President and Chief Executive Officer of The Paley Center for Media Pat Mitchell; and Earth Policy Institute president Lester Brown will be featured, among many others.
The conference will feature renewable energy demonstrations, family activities and live music with John Michel and Michael Jude from the local Aspen band Take the Wheel and a special performance by John Oates (of the 1970’s “rock and soul” duo Hall and Oates fame).
The event kicks off Thursday, Aug. 21, at 3:30 p.m., as speakers including Julienne Stroeve, PhD, discuss the problem of climate change at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium. Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Ice and Snow Data Center, in 2007 authored a startling study that determined that the Arctic Ocean sea ice was melting faster than climate change models had predicted.
The documentary, Burning the Future: Coal in America, will be screened at 6:30 p.m., followed by a question and answer session. Written and directed by New York City-based filmmaker David Novack (disclosure – Novack is a friend of this reporter), the film examines mountaintop removal mining operations in the Appalachian coalfields of West Virginia, and the conflict between local residents and a coal industry that has leveled 1.4 million acres of peaks and valleys in their backyard.
Some residents, including those from longtime coal mining families, point to mountaintop removal mining as the source of their contaminated groundwater, devastating flooding, illness and disease, while others consider the industry their economic savior. As a result, the film also illustrates the social impact of the practice and the community rifts that have developed in its wake.
While the opening day of the conference focuses on the problem of climate change, the Friday, Aug. 22 program at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House will focus on potential solutions.
The Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown will discuss his book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization in which he puts forth a comprehensive plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020 in order to minimize future temperature increases.
That evening, the documentary Fields of Fuel, winner of the Sundance 2008 Audience Award, will be screened. The film follows activist and alternative fuel expert Josh Tickell across the country as he deconstructs America’s fossil fuel addiction and discovers that the development of and distribution infrastructure for sustainable fuels are growing trends.
Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 23, AREDAY will present its first children’s climate solution panel at the Wheeler Opera House. The panel will feature award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Lynne Cherry, award-winning environmental photographer Gary Braasch, and student activist Smitha Ramakrishna, a member of the Arizona Governor’s Youth Commission and 2006 recipient of a President’s Environmental Youth Award administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I feel like kids [speaking] on climate change is the most important voice in our world,” Comins said, describing his belief that children can address the issue in a way adults cannot, and his hope that perhaps in doing, children may influence the political world.
“They get this issue more than anybody,” he said.
At noon the action moves to the Cooper Street Mall and Wagner Park for renewable energy demonstrations, family activities, live music and free ice cream.
The evening will feature a performance by Buffett and the Sacred Wind Dancers as well as a conversation between Turner and the Paley Center’s Mitchell.
Comins hopes that AREDAY may serve as a means to bring people together to address climate change.
“[Climate change] is the three-trillion-ton gorilla in the room we’re all ignoring,” he said. “The only way out of this is if we all come together.”