Contact your Senator and say thanks for defending this new law.
Below is some information from Conservation Colorado regarding the recent defeat of an effort to gut the Rural Renewable Energy Standard:
SB 252, the Rural Renewable Energy Standard Bill: The legislature passed it, the governor signed it, and a citizen’s stakeholder committee came to consensus that the law’s target of 20% by 2020 is feasible. Moreover, utilities across the West are switching to renewables due to their cost effective ability to save consumers money. Recent proposals to repeal or weaken the law are all politics, and Coloradans deserve better. Let’s stop the politics and get to work for Colorado.
The past couple of years have been rough on Colorado, in terms of climate change related disasters. First a couple of record setting wildfire years, and then floods of “biblical” proportions. At a gut level we know we have to respond, but our public discourse is having trouble addressing the root cause directly. Instead we’re dancing around the issue, and failing to either adapt adequately to our new reality or to mitigate further climate change.
Bills related to both the wildfires and last fall’s floods have been wending their way through our state legislature, and last week legislators and the governor held a press conference to highlight some of them, and a lot of the resulting commentary seemed to focus on the safety and well being of the firefighters and other emergency services workers that risk their lives on our behalf. Largely absent from the discussion were the strong measures that the Governor’s wildfire task force put forward in the fall. They included:
- Creating a wildfire risk map, and rating all properties on a scale of 1 to 10, requiring that risk designation to be disclosed before any property sale, and making it available to insurance companies for use in setting their rates.
- Charging those living in the “wildland urban interface” a fee based on their risk exposure, that would be used to defer some of the additional public costs incurred in protecting their private property.
- Creating fire-resistant building codes for high risk areas, affecting both the materials used in construction, and requirements for defensible space around buildings.
Make no mistake: these are climate change adaptation measures, and Colorado has rejected them.
As the Denver Post reported in September: developers didn’t like the idea of increased construction costs; the real-estate industry didn’t like the idea of making a lucrative market much less attractive; homeowners in high risk areas certainly didn’t like the idea of paying for the risks they’ve taken on, or making those risks transparent to potential buyers of their property.
Would the discussion be any different if people understood that the wildfire frequency and intensity is likely to just keep increasing as climate change marches on? This is about as close as the article from September gets to mentioning climate change:
Colorado terrain ravaged by wildfire has quadrupled from 200,000 acres in the 1990s to nearly 900,000 acres in the 2000s. “Scientists tell us this pattern isn’t going to change,” Hickenlooper said.
Why is the “pattern” there in the first place? What kind of scientists was the Governor was talking to? None of the press articles linked to from this post mention climate change even once, despite universally pointing out the trend. For example: As Colorado wildfires continue to worsen, only moderate laws proposed. And why are they worsening? No comment. Even the wildfire task force’s report mentions climate change only once in 80 pages.
The only big risk factor we’ve talked about directly is where we choose to build our homes. This is an important discussion too. The overall wildfire risk — at least to human lives and property — is something like:
(human risk) = (area burned) x (pop. density in high risk areas)
Climate change will in large part determine how much of our state burns each year, but we have a choice about how many people and how much property to put in areas subject to burning. Reducing our exposure to the increasing wildfire risk is an adaptation to climate change — an alteration of our behavior, in light of the expected risks going forward. For the moment at least, we seem unwilling to listen to the warnings.
But hey, at least the state had a conversation, and decided not to do anything.
Cause and Effect
So what are the causes? According to the US Forest Service, the enormous bark beetle kill is due in part to warmer winters, resulting from climate change. These forests filled with dead trees are warm and dry for longer each year, lengthening the western US fire season by about 2 months. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the number of large wild fires per year has already increased from 140 in the 1980s, to 250 in the first decade of the 2000s. This infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists is a good cartoon summary:
The third panel is probably the scariest for Colorado. The dark red swath covering most of the western half of the state means that we expect more than six times as much land to burn each year in the near future, with just 1°C (1.8°F) of additional warming — and as Kevin Anderson and many others have pointed out, it is virtually certain that we will see another 1°C of warming… if not 3°C, or even more.
So our elected representatives are right to be concerned about increased risk from wildfires, and about the safety of the firefighters who try to protect us from those fires. But we’re still missing the point: We control our exposure to risk locally, and we control the magnitude of that risk globally.
Policies aimed at avoiding or reducing climate change (like putting a price on carbon) are mitigation efforts. We’re not talking about them much, even in the context of an obviously climate mediated risk like wildfires. This is bad. If we can’t have a conversation about what’s increasing the wildfire risks, how can we hope to respond appropriately? Is our refusal to respond to change related to our refusal to accept the cause of the change? Or is it more a kind of landscape amnesia — an inability to even see the change? Are we going to forget what normal fire seasons looked like, in the same way that we’ve started to forget what a normal winter feels like:
Double Climate #Fail
Right now we’re managing to fail doubly with respect to climate change. We are both unwilling to adapt to the foreseeable risks, and unwilling to even mention that these risks are linked to our greenhouse gas emissions, let alone talk about what we might do to mitigate those emissions and the risks that they create.
If we really care about our firefighters, if we really are intent on avoiding ever more costly and tragic conflagrations in our state, we need to both adapt and mitigate. We need to start building for a warmer world now, and we need to stop warming the world as quickly as possible.
If you agree, look up the contact information for your Colorado state legislators and let them know.
Do you want to hear where two of the region’s top policy experts think Boulder, and Colorado’s energy future could be going? Join your fellow energy colleagues on Thursday, January 23rd, for an informative and fun evening at the Rocky Mountain AESP Energy Hour.
Both Will Toor, former Boulder mayor and Boulder County commissioner, and Tom Plant, former Colorado State Representative, and Director of the Governor’s Energy Office, have agreed to have a lively panel discussion to address some of the following critical issues:
- What kinds of current policies at the state and local level help or hinder our progress towards cleaner generation and even transportation?
- What is the flavor of the state legislature’s, and governor’s, taste for more renewables and higher DSM goals?
- What options does the City of Boulder have that could lead to a cleaner future, with or without a muni?
- What changes really make a difference with carbon, and which are just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
- And other topics from the attendees.Good local beer and appetizers will be featured by your host, E Source.When: 5:30-7:30, Thursday, January 23rd. Panel discussion will start around 6:15.Where: E Source high-efficiency offices, 1745 38th Street Boulder, Colorado 80301 (Map of E Source ) Just north of FATE Brewing.Cost: For non-AESP members, a donation of $5 is requested.Head Count: To help us know approximately how many people are coming, we’d appreciate that you put your name in this link (if you don’t, you can still come to the event…this will just help us plan): AESP-E Source event
In May of 2013 I gave a talk at Clean Energy Action’s Global Warming Solutions Speaker Series in Boulder, on how we might structure a carbon pricing scheme in Colorado. You can also download a PDF of the slides and watch an edited version of that presentation via YouTube:
The short policy overview:
- We should begin levying a modest carbon tax, in the range of $5 to $25/ton of CO2e.
- The tax must be applied to the fossil fuels used in electricity generation (coal and natural gas). Ideally it should also be applied to gasoline, diesel, natural gas used outside the power sector, and fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, but those are less important for the moment.
- New electricity generation resources must be allowed to compete economically with the operation of existing carbon-intensive facilities, and fuel costs must not be blindly passed through to consumers without either rigorous regulatory oversight, or utilities sharing fuel price risk.
- Carbon tax revenues should be spent on emissions mitigation, providing reliable, low-cost financing for energy efficiency measures and a standard-offer contract with modest performance-based returns for new renewable generation.
- Over time the carbon price should be increased and applied uniformly across all segments of the economy, with the eventual integration of consumption based emissions footprinting for imported goods.
But wait… I can hear you saying, I thought James Hansen and others were rallying support for a revenue neutral carbon tax proposal? Even the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute was looking into it, weren’t they?
A carbon price alone is not enough to get the job done — there are other pieces of our energy markets that also have to be fixed to get us to carbon zero.