Hard Facts: Climate Change

Not that the Elevation Outdoors audience needs convincing that global warming is both happening and on the increase, but to salt the potatoes, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says climate change is “unequivocally” happening across the entire globe. Yearly temperatures are getting hotter, sea ice is melting, atmospheric carbon is growing, and the whole global ecosystem is showing signs of suffering. But how is Colorado weathering the most disruptive climate cycles in recorded history? Read on for a sampling.

#1Southwestern Colorado’s ranking, in terms of readiness to tackle climate change. Forty percent of residents in this area live in a county with a climate change-related plan according to the Colorado Health Institute.

9 millionTons of carbon dioxide Xcel Energy’s Comanche Generating Station, the largest in the state, produced in 2017 through its three coal-fired generating units.

2nd, 4th, 5th – State rankings for DIA in terms of largest individual emitter of carbon monoxide, largest source of volatile organic compounds, and largest source of nitrogen oxides, according to Westword and the EPA.

3 million – Number of Coloradans who live in Wildland Urban Interfaces (WUIs), where neighborhoods and homes intermingle with natural areas with flammable vegetation.

250 – Trees a coalition of community members and environmental groups in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood planted in 2017, with the goal of “reducing heat, cleaning the air, and beautifying the neighborhood.”

2030 – The year Colorado and the rest of the country must cut carbon emissions in half in order to avoid “catastrophic levels of warming.”

2030 – The year a new bill passed by the Colorado House of Representatives in April 2019 will do just that.

2030 – The year the bill requires Xcel Energy to reduce its carbon pollution by 80 percent, a nation-leading number, according to EPA data

SIX – Additional environmental and clean energy measures included in the April bill. Others include new clean energy standards for appliances and building energy codes, and a measure to collect more long-term climate change data.

50% –  Percent of counties in Colorado that do not have plans in place to tackle climate change, with the northeastern and southeastern regions ranking the lowest in terms of readiness. Most Coloradans are aware that the state’s vegetation and wildlife are deeply affected by these changes, but less than half of residents consider their own health to be in jeopardy, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

THIRD: Denver’s ranking in the U.S. for the “urban heat island” effect, just after Las Vegas and Phoenix. Paved areas of Denver are, on average, 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than surrounding areas. Denver’s answer is to give building owners the option to install “cool roofs,” made from light-colored, reflective materials, which can reduce heat exposure risks, according to the nonprofit news organization Climate Central.

$1 Billion: Amount of revenue low-snow years cost the ski industry—including in Colorado—between 2001 and 2016. Which set a record, climbing 15.6% over the previous year according to a report by Protect Our Winters.

17,400: Number of jobs the ski industry lost over the same time period according to a report by Protect Our Winters.

2: Number of degrees Fahrenheit that Colorado’s average temperature has increased in the past 30 years (the global average was 1.9 degrees during the same time period). That may not sound like a lot, but The European Geosciences Union, in a 2016 study, reported that a 1.5- to 2-degree Celsius increase, currently predicted by the end of the century, would cause heat waves that will last around a third longer, rain storms that will be about a third more intense, and an a sea level increase that will severely impact tropical reefs. Projections also suggest that in Colorado, we’ll experience a higher frequency of extreme weather events, increased water scarcity due to a shrinking snowpack, and unhealthier levels of ozone due to warmer temperatures.

410: The level of carbon dioxide in the air as measured by parts per million. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas releases this as well as methane into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. According to Westword magazine, Denver’s emissions from transportation have been on an upward trend since 2009, and overall emissions have been flat since 2012. In April, the American Lung Association released a report saying that as a result, Denver’s known ozone problem is getting worse. A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can curb the problem, and in July 2018, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration released a “Climate Action Plan” that commits Denver to achieving an 80 percent cut in citywide carbon emissions by 2050.

650: Percent increase in annual burn area in the Southern Rocky Mountain Steppe-Forest of central Colorado according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The group claims that wildfires will continue to burn more land and property in the West as the temperature continues to rise, pointing out that snow melts sooner and forests are drier for longer, making them prime for fire.

3 Million: The amount of tons of waste that passes through the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site annually, making it the state’s 11th-largest emitter of methane and largest stationary source of fine-particle pollution, according to EPA data.

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