Fires Make Poignant Case for Action

My cousin’s dream home in Colorado's Black Forest burned down this week. The horrific images of a raging inferno 50 miles to the south suddenly fills me with personal sorrow for these relatives’ profound loss.  Memories of her young daughters frolicking  in the forest  flash before me, and then the unimaginable thought of  her having five minutes to gather the dogs and abandon decades of memories and possessions.  

Then I started to get angry as well.

This week, when temperatures hit 100 degrees in my home town of Denver earlier than ever, when the spring greens on the hills turned to dull hazy browns overnight, I also had a chance to hear about some new research from one of the nation’s leading researchers on climate change communications, Tony Leiserowitz of Yale University. While his research shows a majority of Coloradans believe global warming is influencing the severity of drought, heat waves, reduced snowpack and wildfires, only 46 percent understand that climate change is being caused mostly by human activities. Only half understand there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that this is true.

The vast campaign of well-funded disinformation, modeled so effectively on the tobacco lobby’s efforts, has done us enormous harm in building consensus about the urgent need to act.  Most recently in Colorado, media were saturated  with a fossil fuel-funded ad campaign that claimed a modest increase in rural renewable energy standards would wreak havoc in rural Colorado. The connection between dust-bowl conditions in parts of our state and burning ever more coal went unmentioned.

While we dither, the situation grows ever more scary. This week, the International Energy Agency reported carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose by 1.4% in 2012 to a record high. According to the Guardian newspaper, ``Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, and one of the world's most respected energy experts,  said greenhouse  gas emissions were continuing to rise so fast that pinning hopes on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol would set the world on a path to 5C of warming, which would be catastrophic.’’

But just as important as sounding the alarm about the urgent need to quit treating our skies like a sewer is to sound a message of hope and promise.

We have another path—a proven path to move quickly to a renewable energy future.  Why would we want to resist such a bright path to economic and environmental health?

Other industrialized nations are not swayed by the disinformation campaign and many are moving rapidly toward the clean energy future because they understand it  offers economic prosperity as well as healthier people and  a habitable earth for future generations. The IEA praised even China’s efforts. The Guardian quoted Birol saying  "The Chinese government has made huge efforts in energy efficiency, and a major effort on renewable energy such as hydroelectricity and wind."

In Colorado, solar energy prices have dropped dramatically and we can move quickly to incorporate vastly more  solar energy onto our homes, the roofs of our businesses and industries, and into the utility grid. Wind prices in some cases now make this renewable energy the cheapest source available.Energy efficiency – the energy we don’t use – is almost always the lowest hanging fruit.

All we need are the right policies and the public pressure to convince policy makers to act.

We don’t need to despair or resign ourselves to a future filled with ever increasing fire and drought where I live and  hurricanes and flooding to the east.

But we absolutely need to act. We need to educate ourselves and our friends and family. We need to let our policy makers know that we will vote based on their actions. We need to hold utilities accountable for how they spend ratepayer dollars. We need to become vocal and make saving our planet for future generations of all species the priority it needs to be.

And we need to open our hearts and wallets to help the victims of this year’s fires.

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