In the summer of 2021, I worked as a guide for a local tour company, shuttling visitors from downtown Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park for a day of sightseeing and wildlife watching. As a former park ranger and museum volunteer, I have long loved sharing the beauty and history of our state with tourists from around the world.
Throughout my months of guiding, however, one truth became increasingly apparent: from burn scars and beetle kill to poor air quality obscuring our beloved mountain views, the changes a warming climate is bringing to Colorado are inescapable.
As we quickly approach Election Day, economic concerns such as jobs, taxes, and inflation are some of the biggest issues on Coloradans’ minds. What voters might not realize is how these issues are closely tied to climate change, along with the health, safety, and future of our state, communities, and families. Candidates with a truly holistic view of the wellbeing of Coloradans are therefore those that prioritize acting on climate, and I urge my fellow voters to keep climate top of mind as they cast their ballots this election season.
As the director of communications for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, I often think about the ways in which people discuss climate change. At YECA, we don’t just talk about how the climate crisis is affecting our landscapes and ecosystems (as important as this is), we also focus on how warming temperatures are severely impacting people right now, across the country.
Over the past few years, climate-fueled, billion-dollar weather disasters have increased in frequency and cost throughout America. Last year, Colorado once again made the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual list of billion-dollar disasters with December’s Marshall Fire, the costliest wildfire in our state’s history that destroyed homes, upended families, and disrupted communities. This, of course, came on the heels of the devastating wildfire season of 2020 that was marked by the three largest Colorado fires ever recorded.
Even for Coloradans whose homes and neighborhoods have been untouched by raging wildfires, the air we breathe does not escape the impacts of a warming climate. The American Lung Association’s 2022 State of the Air Report ranked Jefferson and Douglas counties in the top 25 most polluted places to live in terms of ozone, and Denver county received an “F” report card for both ozone and particle pollution. In fact, nearly all of the top 25 cities most polluted by ozone are in the western half of the United States.
As the American Lung Association writes, this trend is due, in part, to prolonged, higher temperatures: “Simply, climate change is undercutting the progress we would have made.” The climate crisis poses a serious and present risk to Coloradans’ health and ability to enjoy the outdoor activities our state is known for.
While this season’s political ads are widely focused on other concerns, this remains a critical moment for the climate crisis. Just last month, the United Nations’ Environment Programme published its annual Emission Gap Report, which found that the international community is falling far short of its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, or 2.7°F. While this amount of warming may not sound extreme, its consequences are immense. With a 2°C increase, for instance, nearly 40% of the world’s population could experience extreme heat waves at least once every five years. At this level of warming, it’s also projected that 13% of the earth’s land area would undergo a major ecosystem transformation.
The good news? According to the report, the U.S. is one of the countries on track to achieve its goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030, thanks to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. But our work is not finished. We need leaders who will ensure Coloradans receive the clean energy benefits outlined in the act and continue to support crucial, historic climate legislation in the future.
As a young evangelical Christian, my choice to act on climate is centered on loving God, God’s creation, and my neighbors. Climate change is my top priority when voting because I want fellow Coloradans, regardless of background or socioeconomic status, to have clean air to breathe and a healthy state to thrive in. I want my neighbors to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities, in the mountains and across the Front Range. And I want children growing up in our state to experience the same clear skies and breathtaking vistas that inspired me to care for creation in the first place.
We need candidates who care about the ways the intersecting realities of climate change are affecting people and will continue to impact their wellbeing. As a fellow Coloradan, I hope you will join me in making voting with climate in mind a top priority for you this election.
Lindsay Garcia, of Denver, is director of communications for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
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