Colorado must act now to avoid the disruption — and cost — of climate change

Authors: Karn Stiegelmeier, Anita Seitz - March 21, 2018 - Updated: March 21, 2018

Karn Stiegelmeier

With every passing year, here in Colorado and around the world, heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere grow and climate disruption becomes more severe.

Between the hurricanes and flooding that devastated parts of Texas and Florida (not to mention nearly all of Puerto Rico), the wildfires that consumed enormous swaths of California, Montana, and Oregon, the searing heat waves across the Southwest, and the punishing flooding in California, climate disruption exacted enormous costs across the country last year. The United States had a record-setting number of billion-dollar natural disasters.

And while warmer temperatures may sound pleasant, the reality won’t be. If emissions continue unchecked, the number of days exceeding 100 degrees will likely grow and the Denver Metro region will increasingly feel like El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona. Local communities across Colorado face growing destructive impacts from extreme weather events, increasing rates of heat-related illness and deaths, and damage to infrastructure like roads and bridges.

Boulder County, for example, estimates that county road damage from the buckling of asphalt caused by high temperatures will be close to $200 million by 2030. Our winter sports industries will continue to struggle, potentially harming jobs and the tax base in many mountain communities. In Summit County, for instance, lakes that have been frozen all winter long now don’t freeze until January. The family tradition of trying out those new

Anita Seitz

ice skates on Christmas Day is no longer reliable. Colorado’s agriculture industry, and the many rural communities tied to this industry, will have to grapple with even more severe droughts and damage from more extreme weather. The quality of life that we have worked so hard to improve and sustain will suffer.

The irony – and opportunity – is that taking assertive steps to reduce the impacts of climate disruption will also directly benefit Colorado’s economy. We know that investments in reducing heat-trapping emissions create good jobs around the state, in both rural and urban communities. In fact, a recent study reported that clean-energy jobs in Colorado grew by more than 6 percent in 2016, while statewide non-farm jobs grew by only 2 percent. We know that reducing our reliance on fossil fuels saves consumers money, not only in the long-term but often in the short-term as well. And we know that modernizing our electric grid with utility-scale wind, rooftop solar, energy storage, and other clean technologies will make it more resilient to disruptions from weather, natural disasters, and terrorism.

All of this positions our state for long-term economic vitality. Colorado at one time was a national leader in modernizing our energy system and reducing emissions, but we are now in the back half of the pack: we have reduced emissions here by less than half the reductions achieved by the nation as a whole. The longer we take to transition to the new energy economy, the further behind we will fall.

Some of our elected representatives are taking important steps, supporting expanded renewable energy, coal power plant retirements, and other emissions reductions. As representatives of Colorado Communities for Climate Action — a coalition of 16 cities and counties across Colorado representing one-eighth of the state’s population — we applaud their leadership and call on the General Assembly and the governor to make 2018 a watershed year for reducing the risks and damages of climate disruption.

With a little less than half of the legislative session still remaining, there will be opportunities to support important bills like HB18-1107 (improving access to electric vehicles), HB18-1274 (establishing greenhouse gas emissions limits for the state), and HB18-1297 (helping communities become more resilient to climate disruption). The ongoing hearings of the House Select Committee on Climate Responsibility are another key opportunity to support action.

By championing proposals that expand renewable energy and reduce harmful emissions, our governor and legislators would be supporting clean air and water, strengthening our recreation-based economy, and helping communities around the state create jobs and save money.

Karn Stiegelmeier

Karn Stiegelmeier

Karn Stiegelmeier serves on the Summit County Board of Commissioners. She holds a degree in environmental conservation from the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Anita Seitz

Anita Seitz

Anita Seitz is the president of Colorado Communities for Climate Action and serves on the Westminster City Counci.