U.S. Senator, Scientists Sound Warning on Climate Change

from Wildlife Promise

Extreme weather in Colorado has included the 2013 flood unleashed by record rainfall. NWF Photo/Kamla Sullivan

Extreme weather in Colorado has included the 2013 flood unleashed by record rainfall. NWF Photo/Kamla Sullivan

We know that no place will escape climate change, but sometimes it feels like Colorado is experiencing all the consequences of a warming world at once.

Last year, our wildfire season, which keeps getting longer, blew up in early June. What became the state’s most destructive wildfire destroyed more than 500 homes and killed two people in a forested area northeast of Colorado Springs. Three months later, record rainfalls in the foothills west and north of Denver caused flooding that meteorologists called “epic,” “biblical” and a “thousand-year” event.  Nine people died. Hundreds of miles of roads were damaged or washed out. Nearly 2,000 homes were destroyed.

The current mountain snowpack in parts of the state is way above normal in some spots and significantly below normal in others. The drought in parts of Colorado’s southeastern plains is rated from “extreme” to “exceptional.”

All this supplied plenty of fodder for a climate change panel discussion hosted by the National Wildlife Federation Monday in Denver.

“We’ve seen in Colorado what climate change is doing. We’ve had wildfires of enormous scale,’’ said Sen. Mark Udall, one of the speakers. “We’re going to continue to see those threats materialize.”

The discussion comes at a key time because the Environmental Protection Agency is putting the final touches on limits to carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants – the country’s largest source of the carbon pollution fueling climate change. The first-ever federal standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants are on track and new safeguards for carbon pollution from existing power plants are expected in June.

Udall was co-chairman of the successful 2004 campaign that made Colorado voters the first in the nation to approve a statewide renewable energy standard. He is a vocal advocate of energy efficiency and renewable energy and recently joined the Senate’s Climate Action Task Force.

“I don’t think I have to convince you all that as a Westerner I respect and understand the connection between our Western way of life and hunting and fishing all of the other outdoor activities that motivate us and inspire us,” Udall said. “I don’t think I have to convince you all as well that one of the reasons I ran for public office in the first place was to protect our special way of life and our national landscapes here.”

A Looming Economic Threat

Climate change, Udall and the other speakers warned, threaten the fish, wildlife, landscapes and other resources at the heart of that way of life.  All wildlife-releated recreation in Colorado generates nearly $3 billion annually for the economy. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation $13.2 billion in consumer spending and $4.2 billion in wages each year.

The impacts of climate change are already evident, but will be even greater for our children, said David Anderson, a climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Boulder, Colo. The changes will become more noticeable during their teenage years and speed up during their working years, he added.

“Twenty, 30, 40 years from now, climate change will affect every economic sector in every geographic region,” Anderson said.

It’s true that the threats will grow, but climate change is happening right now, said Leigh Welling, climate change coordinator for the National Park Service.

“There’s no lack of evidence that climate change poses serious threats,” she said

There might be questions about how fast changes will occur, whether climate change can be blamed for specific storms or weather patterns or how wildlife will adapt, Welling added, but questions shouldn’t delay action.

“Studying the problem doesn’t fix it. Data isn’t going to tell us what to do about climate change,” she said. “The message I want to convey today is that we need to accept that climate change is real and start working collectively on how to avoid some of the most drastic consequences that may be facing our children and grandchildren in the future.”

Sen. Mark Udall stands as he talks to (from left) Leigh Welling, David Anderson and Ann Morgan during a panel discussion on climate change. NWF Photo

Sen. Mark Udall stands as he talks to (from left) Leigh Welling, David Anderson and Ann Morgan during a panel discussion on climate change. NWF Photo.