BIDLACK | If only more of our leaders would take up the challenge of climate change

Author: Hal Bidlack - July 20, 2018 - Updated: July 20, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

A recent Colorado Politics article told of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s climate action plan. The mayor reported, as part of his State of the City address, that his plan would move Colorado’s largest city to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. Now, I should admit right up front that I’m fairly committed to combatting climate change. I am a senior research fellow at a couple of DC-based environmental policy/national security policy think tanks and have been looking at climate change for many years.

And, by the way, while I’m being pedantic, “climate change” is a better term than “global warming” because warming temperatures are only part of the overall impact of changing our climate. The most important predictions of climate change effects are, simply put, worse stuff all round: warmer warms, colder colds, wetter wets and drier dries, etc.

It is important to remember that no one weather event is proof of climate change. But overall patterns are, and when we’ve seen the warmest years on record all within the last decade or so, it should give even the most evidence-averse person pause.

Colorado is warming faster than many other states, and that means hotter summers (anyone notice the 90-degree temps in June?), but also declining snow pack in the winter, which is only a problem if you drink water in Colorado. There are also impacts on wildfires and droughts and, while sea-level rise isn’t really too much of a concern here, the overall climate change picture is not a pretty one. Increased beetle kill sound good?

Which is why Mayor Handcock’s announcement is so welcome, but is also problematic. With his pledge, Denver becomes one of roughly 70 U.S. cities making the pledge, including 10 in Colorado. And don’t get me wrong, this is a very good thing, but can we really afford to take climate change actions on a city-by-city basis? Well, there are two answers to that question: yes and no. Yes, because cities making pledges to fight climate change helps. But no, because with global problems we really need international solutions, led by leaders at the national level. Unfortunately, right now all three branches of our national government are in the hands of folks who are not entirely – shall we say – embracing science?

We’ve elected national leadership that goes way beyond denying the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. Indeed, we have what can only be called an anti-science administration. Back in 2015, Mr. Trump stated “Wow, 25 degrees below zero, record cold and snow… Global warming anyone?” and “Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?” Well Sir, if you took the time to read the scientific reports – I’m only kidding, we all know our president is not a reader – you’d know that those weather events are entirely consistent with climate change. In fact, if they didn’t occur, it would be some of the counter-evidence you are groping for.

When faced with scientific facts, Mr. Trump knows what to do. Delete it. Shortly after he was sworn into office, mentions of climate change started to vanish from government websites. Even that radical leftist organization named the National Geographic Society ran a story about how the Trump team has been rolling back a substantial number of environmental protections, while also aiming to cut federal funding for scientific research on the environment. Before his affinity for expensive fountain pens and first-class airline tickets brought about his downfall, former-EPA director Scott Pruitt seemed to forget what the P in EPA stood for and ordered rollbacks in many regulations, including those protecting communities against coal ash, a highly toxic material left over in coal-fired power plants. Of course, he didn’t have to worry too much about his true constituents – very few top 1%-ers live downstream of coal ash deposits. Indeed, about 70% of coal ash deposit sites are in poor people’s neighborhoods. I could go on and on and on. Sigh.

Which is why Mayor Handcock’s actions are most welcome, even as I decry the lack of national leadership. Denver is setting an important example for Colorado and the nation. We will literally and figuratively breathe a little easier in the future, at least in greater Denver.

Many years ago, when I was first becoming interested in the then-brand-new idea of climate change, I heard a speaker say that even if you don’t accept the science, the actions taken (such as those by Mayor Handcock) are still good for the community. Jobs are created, air gets cleaner, and you can’t outsource fixing windmills to China. The basic steps that can help combat a warming world also make for better communities. So well done, Mr. Mayor, I hope others are watching.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.