“After the final no there comes a yes and on that yes the future of the world hangs” ~Wallace Stevens
Local Impacts of Climate Change
The climate has changed in Colorado but people and governments around the world and here in Colorado are embracing solutions and reducing their carbon footprints. As we work for more clean energy, more efficiency and more effective laws to slow and eventually arrest these changes, please use this local-impacts information sheet to discuss this urgent issue with legislators.
What follows is a 2015 document from The Climate Reality Project titled, “What does climate change mean for Colorado?,” that lists some of local impacts of climate change.
Temperatures in Colorado have increased about 2° F in the last 30 years. During a summer 2012 heat wave, Denver tied its all-time heat record of 105° F, and monthly average temperature records were broken in the city and in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
According to climate models, Colorado will warm by 2.5º F by 2025 and 4º F by 2050, compared to the 1950–99 average. Temperatures in East Colorado may rise by 6° F by end-of-century if carbon pollution is low. Temperatures may rise by 10° F if carbon pollution is high for the same time period.
For the Great Plains, temperatures may rise by 5—7° F by the end of the century if carbon pollution levels decline. Temperatures may rise by more than 10° F if higher carbon pollution levels continue. Summer changes are projected to be larger than those in winter.
Reduced mountain snow melt is effecting Colorado’s water supply and putting pressure on agriculture, ranching, and natural lands throughout the state, as well as impacting other states that depend on the Colorado River. Water flow in streams may be significantly reduced due to the loss of snow-fed sources.
The start time of streams from melting snow shifted forward by two weeks between 1978 and 2004. By the end of the century, Colorado may see rain and snow decrease by as much as 30—35 percent in the south of the state and by 5—10 percent in the north. This change would make drought and wildfire more likely.
An increase in invasive species is also projected, which would significantly harm the state’s biodiversity.
Projections indicate more frequent floods, occurring at different times, making planning and recovery more difficult. Yet, at the same time, runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin may decrease by 6—20 percent (one estimate is as high as 45 percent) by 2050, compared to the twentieth-century average.
During the 2012 wildfire season, often remembered as the worst in the state’s history, 385,000 acres were burned, resulting in at least $538 million in property losses. Drying conditions across the state will increase the likelihood of large wildfires.
What is Colorado Doing About It?
Colorado has a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) policy mandating that energy producers obtain 30 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2020, large electric cooperatives to obtain 20 percent by 2020, and municipal utilities and small electric cooperatives to obtain 10 percent by 2020.
Colorado ranks 17th in the U.S. in the share of renewables in its electricity. Renewable energy sources were able to supply enough energy to power over 1.05 million households in 2013.
In 2013, wind energy was the largest source of renewable energy, accounting for roughly 14 percent of the state’s generation. Nearly half of this capacity was installed between 2011 and 2013. Colorado has enough wind energy potential to meet the state’s energy needs 24 times over.
Currently, just 0.3 percent of the state’s total electricity comes from solar energy. However, the solar industry continues to grow as the price for solar energy systems declines. In 2013, $233 million was invested in solar on homes and businesses in Colorado, supporting 327 companies and 3,600 jobs.
Colorado commissioned the Colorado Climate Preparedness Project, whose primary purpose is to help the state better understand the climate vulnerabilities it faces and catalog the current climate adaptation projects underway at all levels of government (state, municipality, county, etc.).
In 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter called for greenhouse gas reductions of 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
The Good News……!
If Colorado and the rest of the world take action and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically, through the promotion of clean energy, many of the worst impacts will be avoided. Clean energy and efficiency retrofits needed to address this crisis create jobs that cannot be outsourced, benefitting us all.