THE ASPEN TIMES
ASPEN - Aspen resident Jim True discovered earlier this month that concerns over climate change in mountainous areas can bridge gaps between a wealthy, pre-dominantly white ski resort in America and a subsistence farming village in Uganda, Africa.
True traveled to Uganda for a three-day international conference Nov. 17-20 to discuss the challenges arising in the world's mountainous areas because of global warming. Most of the 40 or so participants were representatives of African countries. True's name tag at his desk identified him as being from Aspen. That produced more than a few jokes about Aspen's status among countries, True said, but many attendees seemed genuinely pleased by Aspen's interest. There was no official delegate attending for the United States.
True said he repeatedly pressed the point that despite the differences between mountain towns in the U.S, Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America, they share a common threat to their lifestyles. Therefore, he said, the mountain towns must stick together to make sure their voice gets heard in worldwide debates about climate change.
"It was exciting," True said of the summit. "I'm glad I did it. It was interesting to me to see people of different countries trying to solve a common problem."
True got an invitation as a member of the Aspen International Mountain Foundation's (AIMF) board of directors. AIMF was invited to the table as a member of the Mountain Partnership, a United Nations-sanctioned organization that advocates "pro-mountain issues" in international discussions.
AIMF founder Karinjo DeVore couldn't attend the conference, so True went instead. True, also a special counsel for the city of Aspen, said a grant through the World Bank funded his trip. No taxpayer funds from Aspen were spent.
After a long weekend of flying to get to Entebbe on Nov. 14, True and other attendees took a five-hour bus trip to get to a Ugandan mountain resort where the conference was held. Their first day featured another bus trip to visit farming villages located on the slopes of Mount Elgon at an elevation similar to the middle Roaring Fork Valley.
True said the area had been stripped of native trees for crop land. The villagers were proud of practices, such as crop rotation, they learned from a soil conservation organization. But they were also concerned about changing weather patterns.
Some parts of Africa, like the world, are experiencing unprecedented droughts while others are facing enhanced flooding. The rains in the part of Uganda True visited were affecting the ability to grow crops and degrading water quality in rivers and streams. Elsewhere, such at Mount Kilimanjaro, receding glaciers threaten to create fresh water shortages.
About half of the countries of Africa have highlands, mountains or steep sloping areas, according to Mountain Partnership. They provide some of the most diverse ecosystems on the continent.
True said an Ugandan village woman asked him to tell her about his hometown. It was extremely difficult, he said, to try to describe skiing to someone barely familiar with the concept of snow.
The conference was part of an on-going effort by Mountain Partnership to prepare a report in time for the Rio+20 conference on climate change that will be held next year.
This month's trip to Africa was the second for True. He traveled to Kenya a decade ago on a wildlife sightseeing safari. He didn't get a chance on this trip to see any of the countries' majestic animals.
"We weren't in an area known for its wildlife," he said. "We did cross the Nile."