Our forests are on fire across North America, including the section of the Rocky Mountains we are all stewards of.
Having burned 130,000 acres, the Pine Gulch fire at the time of this writing is has become the biggest fire by acreage in Colorado’s known history.
Supercharged by climate crisis — drought, record high temps and beetle kill have brought the perfect firestorm. These fires threaten homes and watersheds, and are pumping so many particles into the air that this, combined with our toxic pollution, has registered Denver within the top 10 worst air quality in the world as of Aug. 25, according to IQAir, an online, free, real-time air quality information platform.
High temperatures combined with nutrient pollution are leading to massive toxic algae blooms. From the alpine lakes in the Gunnison Valley to the urban Sloan’s Lake in Denver, we are experiencing an alarming pattern of toxic algae and wildlife decline as a result. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), algal outbreaks can severely sicken people. Health effects vary depending on the kind of bacteria in the algae, but symptoms are pretty nasty and include skin irritation, rashes, blisters around the mouth and nose and other problems. Pets, in particular, can be sickened or die if exposed to algal outbreaks. Climate Action and nutrient pollution must be addressed to ensure clean water for all — including our children, pets and wildlife.
According to NASA, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase along current trajectories throughout the 21st century, there is an 80% likelihood of a decades-long megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between the years 2050 and 2099. Our current heat wave is record-breaking, but I need to imagine 110-degree heat waves for two weeks. We often discuss the increase in Celsius, but I believe we should be talking in the terms that we as Americans use. The worst-case scenario is regions across the globe may see 12-degree Fahrenheit increases in high temperatures. Who lives and who dies? Who works outside? What crops survive? Who can afford the energy costs to cool their homes? How hot will the schools be for our children?
I know this is scary, but we cannot be paralyzed by fear. We must take immediate action as Denverites to do our part, and likely a little more for those who can’t or won’t do their part to meet this short timeline for greenhouse gas emission reductions. We must transform ourselves and our systems to protect the next seven generations.
The Denver Climate Action Task Force released recommendations to transform several sectors of our economy this summer. It calls for a green stimulus that empowers the community to work towards climate justice. This report estimates that taking action and investing $3 billion over the next decades into climate action will save us $20 billion in future disaster recovery costs and other savings. This figure doesn’t account for the increased quality of life for all as public and environmental health is improved. The U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has released a report on how federal programs and dollars can bolster state and local efforts to change our ways and prepare for the worst. This fall, we expect Colorado to release its Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, which was mandated by HB19-1261. The next steps will be figuring out how these plans can work together and swiftly to reduce pollution.
Plans are great, especially ambitious ones, but without funding and political will, these roadmaps to a more equitable future will not be implemented. This election and every election for the foreseeable future, I implore you to vote for climate action, support sign-on letters, make phone calls and pound the pavement because climate justice is racial justice, as we need everyone to join the global movement.
Ean Thomas Tafoya is a climate and government activist. He can be reached at @BelieveEan on Twitter.