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Opinion Columns

Opinion: By slowing growth, Lakewood enacts Colorado’s strongest climate action plan

Lakewood voters should be applauded across Colorado this week — the wrecking ball of growth steamrolling our state has finally met its match at the ballot box. 

By a six-point margin on July 2, Lakewood voters enacted a “Slow Growth” ordinance that restricts the amount of new residential development in the city. 

Gary Wockner

This kind of public backlash against the exponential population growth destroying everything Coloradans want protected should serve as a wake-up call to politicians at all levels who enact policies to do the opposite — fuel and subsidize growth. 

Lakewood voters’ leadership will also help protect Colorado’s environment — including our landscapes, rivers, wildlife and the air we breathe — as growth continues to degrade all of those at a rapid pace.

Perhaps inadvertently, Lakewood voters also just enacted one of the Colorado’s strongest municipal Climate Action Plans. Population growth — with all the new construction, consumers and traffic — is one of the principle drivers of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in our state (the other driver is oil and gas drilling). 

In fact, the last time Colorado actually did a GHG emissions calculation in 2014, population growth was listed by the Hickenlooper administration as one of the biggest drivers of GHG emissions.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

GHG emissions that drive climate change come from many sources related to population growth including:

  • The construction of new buildings — especially using steel and cement — emits huge GHG emissions due to the mining, production and shipping of the steel and cement.
  • Massive amounts of consumer goods — increasing with all the new people — are produced in Asia and shipped in container ships across the Pacific, and then by rail and truck to Colorado, all of which produces significant GHG emissions.
  • All of the food we eat produces large-scale GHG emissions due to the agricultural production methods on farms and the shipping of the food across the U.S. and the planet.
  • The production and use of cars — almost all of which still burn gasoline — increases each year in Colorado.
  • Every time we turn on the stove, the furnace, and the lights in our houses/offices/stores, we cause GHG emissions due to the source of that power mostly coming from coal- or gas-fired powerplants. 

Simple back-of-the-envelope math tells you that if you have less human consumers, you will have less population-caused GHG emissions. By slowing population growth, Lakewood will slow its GHG emissions — every city in Colorado could do the same thing, as could the state. 

In fact, there’s a statewide ballot initiative proposed right now that would enact “growth control” measures in eight counties across the Front Range. The initiative would allow only “one percent” growth in these counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld. 

The Lakewood growth control (Climate Action Plan) measure was bitterly fought, took two years to come to fruition, and was outspent 25-1 by the real estate industry during the election over the last month. 

The “growth machine” is very powerful in Colorado and will not stop trying to turn our state into strip malls and parking lots while it drives climate change emissions higher and higher. 

Expect the same bitter battles as growth control measures pop up across the Front Range and if the statewide initiative makes the ballot in November. 

Gary Wockner, Ph.D., is a Colorado environmental activist. Twitter: @GaryWockner  

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