Coloradans had a chance to see the priorities of state legislators as the new legislative session began. There’s a lot of good stuff: education, public safety and the economy.
Unfortunately, the 102 bills and resolutions already submitted in the House and Senate, few appear ready to seriously tackle the root causes of climate change — fossil fuels.
This oversight is considered to be annoying. Colorado has witnessed firsthand the effects of a rapidly changing climate in the last few years. Most recently, the Marshall fire became the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, destroying nearly 1,100 structures worth More than half a million dollars.
Colorado had experienced a long history of extreme wildfires. 2020 fire season. This included the Pine Gulch Fire, the Cameron Peak fire and the East Troublesome fire, all of which easily passed 100,000 acres burned — and one over 200,000 acres — breaking records multiple times within the same season.
Then there was the Glenwood Canyon Mudslides of 2021. These mudslides went beyond what engineers had anticipated due to the intensity fires.
The slides closed I-70 intermittently for weeks, cutting off the primary connection throughout the state. Officials were forced to look into the matter. $116 Million of taxpayer dollarsto cover repair costs. The intensity of the mudslide’s impact was a Climate change has a direct impact.
Setting extreme wildfires and mudslides aside, there’s been a myriad of record-breaking events in Colorado as of late: record-breaking heat, record-breaking winds, record-breaking drought, record-breaking hail, record-breaking tornadoes, record-breaking cold and even record-breaking bombogenesis. Of note, my iPhone desperately wants to autocorrect that last one to “bimbo jeans,” a testament to the relative newness of word use.
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Particularly concerning is that it’s no longer unique enough to simply break existing records. We are now breaking records, breaking previous records and even breaking the record-breaking heat winds, drought, hail with new record-breaking temperatures, winds, drought, hail and all this in one season.
The solution is, for all intents and purposes deceptively simple: More policies to reduce the burning, release, and accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere.
Yet, for many years, there has been a lack of urgency to act. It is as if climate change is still years away. We set goals for 2030 or 2050, implying we have time when we don’t. Climate change is not an on/off switch; it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long, roiling boil, and for years the molecules have already been moving faster and faster.
The climate crisis must be a priority legislatively for this year, next, and for every year thereafter. We must also be exceptionally clear in our messaging: Actions taken now are not to prevent climate change from occurring — this is impossible, it’s already under way. Instead, today’s actions are to mitigate the severity of impact from our past actions. The warning sign we are seeing is not what we should be experiencing.
Importantly, prioritizing climate change does not mean that we have to abandon other priorities. On the contrary — almost any area of policy addressing climate change is part of the solution.
Think about the economy. One of the best ways to save Coloradans their money is to address climate change. At a personal level, we won’t gain nearly as much from a few dozen tax dollars back per year as we do by avoiding a loss of thousands of dollars in insurance deductibles, lost wages and displacement costs when a wildfire fueled by climate change burns down much of our town.
Similarly, we can’t achieve social equity without mitigating climate change — the burdens will fall disproportionately on disadvantaged communities. We can’t achieve sustainable agriculture or outdoor tourism on the West Slope without mitigating the lack of precipitation. We can’t even achieve a sufficient education with sweltering classrooms, reduce health concerns or maintain a federal budget with increasing billion-dollar disasters.
It should be noted that there are several bipartisan wildfire mitigation bills this session, and that’s something to be proud of. However, this is an adaptation bill, not a mitigation strategy to climate change. Without doing more to target the underlying source of the problem — by and large the burning of fossil fuels — there’s only so much that can be done.
After listening to State of the State last Thursday, it became incredibly clear that climate change is simply not the focus this session — and unless the messaging changes drastically, it won’t be. One journalist stated that climate change was not the focus of this session. Twitter: Observed with great attention, the governor used the word “climate” three times, just once more than he mentioned Taylor Swift.
This got me thinking.
Perhaps Coloradans should make their pleas directly for Ms. Swift instead. Swift is the best choice.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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