Area leaders join campaign for climate agenda
August 25, 2006
In the growing debate about climate change, the story increasingly has been one of local and state governments taking action, going where the Bush administration has refused to go so far.With California leading the way, several states in the West – including New Mexico, Arizona and Montana – have been assembling plans for adapting to climate change and reducing the growth in greenhouse gases that most scientists now say is the dominant cause of rising temperatures and possibly more extreme weather events.Now, a new group of businesses, nonprofits and local governments – among them Summit County and the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District – is pushing for creation of what is called a Colorado Climate Agenda. “Even if there is only a 2 percent chance that 95 percent of climate scientists are correct, this is a dire situation,” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said Thursday at a news conference to announce launch of the initiative.”We are potentially the first generation in history to leave the next generation a problem for which there is no solution,” Hickenlooper added.Denver, Lakewood and Fort Collins – three of Colorado’s five largest cities – are in the coalition. A blue-ribbon panel of about 30 people from across Colorado, with diverse interests and areas of expertise, is to develop the agenda during the next 12 to 14 months. A group called Center for Climate Strategies, which is already providing technical and other help to other Rocky Mountain states, will assist the project. The agenda then is to be submitted to the project directors, including the mayors of those three cities, as well as Summit County Commissioner Tom Long, plus two individuals from the private sector: Gail Klapper, director of the Colorado Forum, and Al Yates, former president of Colorado State University.These project directors will then decide what recommendations are to be submitted to the Colorado governor and legislators, plus local officials. As Gov. Bill Owens will leave office at the end of 2007, both gubernatorial candidates, Bob Beauprez and Bill Ritter, have been briefed on the project. Already on the table for discussion are various proposals, including: Whether Colorado should adopt the standards set by California that require fewer emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles New programs to encourage and facilitate action by local governments to reduce local emissions. Only six local governments in Colorado now have or are developing such programs. Aspen is among them New standards and incentives for energy efficiency and the use of clean-energy sources. Possible effects on local water supplies Local adaptations that may be necessaryEric Kuhn, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, will co-chair the panel.”I am particularly concerned about what the future has in store from a water perspective,” he said. “I am not necessarily an advocate of global warming, but I think it’s something we need to be thoroughly prepared for.”While climate change is increasingly accepted as a legitimate threat by many, and perhaps most, Americans, important differences remain as to what should be the response. For example, Chips Barry, general manager of Denver Water, believes the fundamental response should be adaptation.Donations of $250,000 have already been gathered, and organizers hope to collect $645,000. Money for the project so far has come primarily from philanthropists: at least $15,000 each form the Rockefeller Family Foundation and the city of Aspen; and at least $50,000 each from Denver Water, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Bohemian Foundation.Yates is the representative for the Bohemian Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Fort Collins-based activist Pat Stryker. Both Hickenlooper and Steve Burkholder, mayor of the Denver suburb of Lakewood, stressed that while climate change represents a threat, it also provides opportunities. A former petroleum geologist, Hickenlooper has repeatedly described Denver and, more broadly Colorado, as the hub for “balanced energy.” He is calling for creation of thousands of what he calls “green-collar jobs.”Burkholder similarly painted a sweet and sour picture. “I am very concerned about what climate change can do to Colorado and our economy,” he said, citing the threats to skiing, tourism, and agriculture.He also pointed to the devastation of bark beetles to forests of lodgepole pine in Grand County and elsewhere. Epidemics of bark beetles are normally nipped by extended periods of cold, which have largely been absent in Colorado for nearly 20 yearsBut Burkholder also portrayed promise for the “balanced energy capitol of the West. The Denver-Boulder already is the center for a variety of institutions devoted to research into climate change and to alternative energy. Plus, he added, “We have 300 days of sunshine per year.”Yates described Colorado as a bellwether state.”We in Colorado could wait for other states to do enough to keep our state safe,” he said. “We in the United State could continue to wait for other nations to do enough to keep our country safe. But that’s not us, not who we are. Colorado is one of the surest bellwethers in the country. We break new ground. We lead the way.”The project was assembled by the Rocky Mountain Climate Change Organization, which was created two years ago by Stephen Saunders an Interior Department undersecretary in the Clinton administration. That organization has gained increasing representation, including Summit County government and four towns in Summit County, plus the city of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co., and Intrawest Colorado.Vail and Avon are indirectly represented through the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.