I had a strange feeling of falling back in time to the “Twilight Zone” TV series of the early ’60s as I read the charts that explain why it’s so hard to cut Colorado’s ozone.
I’ll save you the trip to Wikipedia: “Twilight Zone” episodes included “fantasy, science fiction, absurdism, dystopian fiction, suspense, horror, supernatural drama, black comedy, and psychological thriller, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist, and usually with a moral.” The term even shows up in dictionaries: A situation or state of mind seemingly between reality and fantasy.
As Michael Booth noted in The Sun, we’ve made steep cuts to nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds emitted on the Front Range, but we’ve been getting worse, not better, in the past few years on ozone. With 38 Ozone Action Alert Days so far this year, the Environmental Protection Agency is about to formally declare us in severe nonattainment. Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission has the power to make regulations to change this, but so far has not.
The governor seems to believe oil and gas industry flimflam that the problem is just background levels of ozone from elsewhere that blow into Colorado. But what about the ozone we create here? The biggest producer is the oil and gas industry, and their ozone “strategy” is to blame-shift and focus on cars and trucks.
We do need environmentally just ways to get us all into electric vehicles, but let’s not be too quick to let highly paid oil and gas executive, and our governor, off the hook. Big oil and gas can reduce ozone, but won’t unless the Air Quality Control Commission requires them to, because it might reduce profits. It is time to stop putting profits before people.
I am a retired business owner and am firmly convinced that a growing number of shareholders want to see a “triple bottom line” that incorporates social, environmental and financial performance, or as it is sometimes put: people, planet and profit. Wall Street no longer crows so loudly “greed is good,” but one can still hear that echo in oil and gas boardrooms.
Isn’t it obvious that climate change is real, that we do not need new fossil fuel projects? We need new solar, wind, storage, and microgrid projects. We need renewable energy industry training and economic support for oil and gas workers and their communities, not tax breaks for oil and gas executives, increased shareholder profits or reduced bonding requirements for leaks and cleanups.
We need more effective leadership in government. I want Democrats, Republicans and Independents to stop betting our climate future on voluntary guidelines and gradual market-based change. Greenwashed intentions don’t get us where we need to be.
We need decisive action by Gov. Jared Polis and his Air Quality Control Commission appointees to regulate, and eventually ban, gasoline-powered vehicles and two-cycle engines like lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
However, the primary target right now should be oil and gas production. A long-term perspective is essential.
I may not be alive in 2050, but young people who live and work here now will be. What will their quality of life be like? In current studies, ozone has been demonstrated to worsen airway inflammation, to increase the airway response to inhaled allergens, and to increase nonspecific airway responsiveness, each of which is likely to indicate worsening asthma.
Unfortunately, long-term perspectives and a commitment to act on that basis seem increasingly hard to find. As elections approach, reality and fantasy rhetoric about climate in general and ozone in particular seem more and more conflated. Policy “positioning” offers a Twilight Zone blend of greenwashing fantasy and absurdism.
What seems to be missing is the moral to the story. Is it that we have the best politicians oil and gas money can buy? Is it that we care more about oil and gas profits now than the quality of human life down the road? Is it politics before people?
Rod Serling’s introduction to the TV shows, and Colorado’s approach to our ozone problem, each seem to say, “You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop—The Twilight Zone.”
What we need is courageous leadership by Gov. Polis and his Air Quality Control Commission appointees to get ozone policy out of the Twilight Zone.
David Alley lives in Denver.
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