Dollar bills burn the best

WASHINGTON

Money may not buy you happiness, but burning it might help keep you from freezing to death. A snowshoer who became lost in a blizzard on Mount Rainier told The Seattle Times that he survived by digging a snow tunnel and then burning everything he could find, from socks and Band-Aids to his toothbrush “and lastly, $1 and $5 bills from his wallet.”

Yong Chun Kim, 66, an experienced mountaineer, said he became separated from the group he was leading after slipping and then sliding down the mountain. Though he radioed the group that he was OK, he became disoriented in the rough terrain. For two days, Kim, a cancer survivor, kept himself going by praying, eating a little and dreaming of his wife and a warm sauna. He also moved around vigorously and took cover in several deep holes around trees. He tried to keep walking, he recalled, but “the snow was so deep, I couldn’t breathe.”

He found that dollar bills burned the best, though he worried that “in a national park, you’re not supposed to have a fire … but I want to stay alive.” It took rescuers nine hours to bring Kim down safely to a visitors’ center at 5,400 feet. Afterward, he was in such good shape that he skipped a hospital checkup and went right home to his family.

COLORADO AND THE WEST

Wouldn’t it be grand if you could live in a house that never racked up a single electric bill? Some homeowners have pursued that goal by retrofitting their homes with solar or wind power, though it’s not easy to achieve the wondrous state of “net-zero” — defined as any building that produces at least as much energy as it consumes.

But now, you can choose such a house right off the shelf, so to speak, from some local developers, reports the Denver Post. Though they’re not cheap, they’re not out of bounds for families with a couple of incomes. Denver-based New Town Builders, for instance, offers a $424,000 model with rooftop solar panels, guaranteed to “generate enough extra power to offset utility costs.” There is one hitch, however: Mortgage underwriters “typically do not take into account energy-saving features that boost purchase prices,” and New Town says the solar panels add $26,900 to the cost of its net-zero houses.

Help might be on the way from Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who has introduced a bill directing federal mortgage-loan agencies to consider the expected reductions in energy costs when calculating loan costs. His bill, called SAVE, for Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act, awaits a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee. While it may take time for buyers to seek out net-zero homes, John Bringenberg of SunTalk, a company that installs solar panels, predicts that in a decade, every house will have some solar component: “A house isn’t going to just sit there in the sun; it will generate electricity.”

UTAH AND THE WEST

More good green news comes from a city that was smart enough back in the mid-’90s to start planning a more sustainable future, reports Governing magazine. In a community effort called “Envision Utah,” Salt Lake City residents planned 40 and even 50 years ahead. Goals included reducing sprawl and driving time, cutting down on air pollution and retaining the precious open space near the mountains. They concentrated on planning for “higher-density developments around mass-transit stops” — creating places where cars could be abandoned in favor of walking or taking light-rail trains or streetcars to work, stores and school.

If that vision holds, the Greater Wasatch area — a narrow, 120-mile strip where about 80 percent of Utah’s population lives — will “conserve 23 square miles of open space, reduce traffic congestion by 18 percent, and increase (mass) transit use by 12 percent,” predicts the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

ARIZONA

Thanks to the 23-to-30-foot-high fence across the Nogales border with Mexico, the Tucson Weekly finds that marijuana smugglers and U.S. Border Patrol have begun playing a vigorous “game” that resembles a blend of monkey-in-the-middle and football. “There are quarterbacks in Mexico and receivers in the U.S.,” said Lt. Gerardo Castillo of the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force. “We try to intercept, obviously.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western weirdness are always appreciated at betsym@hcn.org.

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