By Glenn Krieger
Climate change is a tricky issue. I mean, it’s a very serious issue, no doubt, but when it comes to figuring out how to deal with climate change (much less convince people), it can be very, very tricky. There is a lot that needs to be done in order to better enhance our environment and rethink the way we consume energy. But before we can actually do anything that so desperately needs to be done, we need a plan.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is receiving criticism from environmental activists for his recently released Climate Action Plan, stating that it lacks a sense of urgency and fails to offer any real kind of solution, leaving a lot of responsibility in the hands of Colorado citizens.
In actuality, Hickenlooper’s Climate Action Plan is planting some very important seeds that, to continue the metaphor, will blossom into a strong coalition of innovative Coloradans who will lead the country in climate reform.
The plan looks at seven main areas affected by climate change, and offers solutions or recommendations for each.
Let’s take a look.
Water: The goal of the plan is to promote drought preparedness and incorporate the effects of climate change into the state’s annual water plan. On average, Colorado receives only 17 inches of rain each year. Snowpack is the biggest reservoir and the source of nearly 70 percent of the surface water. However, the effects of climate change have brought about earlier snowmelt, “shifting peak runoff by as much as a month and increasing drought severity,” according to the report. This means that demands for water resources will increase as the population grows. The plan identifies the state’s potential water crisis and provides plans of action for how to deal with water during a drought or after a major weather event, and encourages water efficiency and/or conservation.
Public Health: In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that without effective adaptation to climate change, public health will absolutely be at risk. The plan discusses Colorado’s current and proposed strategies for how best to adapt to any climate-related public health risks. These strategies include reducing GHG and air pollution, environmental policies and regulations, public outreach, and higher emergency response. The good news here is that Colorado has already taken steps to reduce GHG emissions by introducing legislation, regulations, and policies at the state and local levels.
Energy: Hickenlooper’s plan encourages energy companies to “continue collaborating with agricultural and environmental interests,” to “engage with energy companies to encourage and promote the most water-efficient technologies for energy extraction,” and to “reduce market barriers to the development of all cost-effective and technology viable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fueled transportation.” Considering how much of a fight the energy sector is putting up, this is a solid strategy to help nudge them in the right direction.
Transportation: This is a very important part of the plan. Transportation plays a huge part in climate change and seriously needs to be addressed. The plan encourages fuel-efficient vehicle technologies and provides guidance to citizens and local governments on the importance of public transportation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Agriculture: One of largest economic drivers, agriculture is a $40 billion dollar industry that provides Colorado with safe and abundant food. “More than 35,000 farms and ranches employ 170,000 people and operate on more than 52 million acres across the state,” the report states. Because of climate change, these farms and ranches are at risk. Spring runoff is projected to shift earlier in the season with streamflows projected to decrease and heat waves, drought, and wildfires are all projected to increase. The report addresses how best to adapt to these changes by promoting increased water storage, efficiency, and conservation and to support federal and state programs that improve soil health so that farms and ranches can continue to operate to their best capabilities.
Tourism and Recreation: Climate change can have a significant impact on tourism in Colorado. Because of the risk of wildfires and earlier snowmelt, it doesn’t exactly encourage people to visit the state when ski season ends early and wildfires ruin a hiking trip. The plan’s strategy here is to “partner with federal and local agencies to preserve and protect forest health and wildlife habitat, and to reduce wildfire risk.” There’s also a plan to encourage higher diversification of activities at all of Colorado’s recreational areas in case of risk.
Ecosystems: This is the one all-encompassing piece of the entire plan. Every facet of our lives are affected by the ecosystem, from water to agriculture to tourism. The plan is to continue supporting funding and technical support for homeowners living in areas with high risk of wildfire, to submit a State Wildlife Action Plan that includes a “vulnerability assessment of 13 priority habitats based on projected climate change, and to continue to investigate ways to reduce impacts of climate change in aquatic systems.”
The issue of climate change is entirely up to us. Yes, the government is supposed to be there to protect and guide us. Yes, it often takes policy and regulation to make things happen. And yes, I don’t have a third yes.
(Sorry, sometimes you need a little sense of humor to help you manage serious issues.)
One thing that’s really great about Coloradans is that we know how to work together. We know how to innovate, create, and collaborate. We’ve accomplished some remarkable things over the past few years, from medical advances to hemp products to aerospace technology. And we’re continuing to do so. There are millions of people living within Colorado’s borders who care about the environment, who want to see something done about it, who want real change and real action so that we’re not destroying our environment for our children. But it’s not up to the government and it’s not up to the corporations; it’s up to us.
Let’s get out there and do something about it.