Four Ways Climate Change Impacts Colorado

Climate change is already impacting Colorado’s people, economy, wild places, and way of life. We’re seeing harmful air quality; larger, more devastating wildfires; shorter winters; and unpredictable weather patterns.

Although we are all vulnerable to climate change, the burdens are not distributed equally between all of Colorado’s residents. Frontline communities – including communities of color, Latinx, Indigenous, and lower-income individuals – bear a disproportionate burden on a daily basis and acutely in times of crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings the importance of climate action and environmental justice into even sharper relief. It shows more than ever that public health matters, science matters, and leadership matters. 

These four impacts of climate change on our state give us all four more reasons to stand up for ambitious and equitable climate action.

1. Climate Change Worsens Colorado’s Air Quality

Warmer air helps trap and hold smog around cities, so rising temperatures will only worsen existing air pollution. That doesn’t bode well for Colorado communities who are already vulnerable to harmful pollution – 3 of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities are located right here in Colorado. This poor air quality can lead to serious health issues like increased lung and heart problems and certain cancers. Historic redlining and economic exclusion have only made matters worse, as Black and Latinx communities are much more likely to live near harmful air pollution, and suffer disproportionate impacts. 

The grave implications of this environmental injustice in the face of the coronavirus crisis have made it abundantly clear that air pollution, socioeconomic status, race, and health are directly linked. That is why any and all climate solutions must address economic and health equity.

Pollution from heavy industry

2. Climate Change Causes More Frequent Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, floods, and fires, cause immediate damage to our lives and livelihoods, but they also lead to longer-standing issues. In the aftermath of natural disasters, sanitation and healthcare services are often obstructed and economic recovery can take years. Although these negative impacts are difficult to predict on a local scale, the Union of Concerned Scientists has identified wildfires as a major risk to Colorado communities. In fact, scientists predict the area of wildfire burns to double by 2050, which would in turn contribute to more severe flooding damage. So while we may be safe from sea level rise, we’re not exempt from the catastrophes of climate change.

Wildfire scar with Aspens

3. Climate Change Limits Recreation Opportunities

Outdoor recreation is getting more difficult in a warming world. Shorter, warmer winters hurt ice climbing and skiing, while reduced snowmelt is challenging for fishing and whitewater sports. Hot summers push climbers and hikers into the fall and spring, meaning fewer daylight hours. And diminishing snowpack means less spring runoff, making whitewater sports difficult.

Climate variability has made it all the more difficult to plan for recreation outings. But addressing climate change and outdoor recreation can do more than just improve the likelihood of a successful raft trip. As we collectively tackle the climate crisis, we can chart a more equitable course for access to outdoor recreation and rethink how public lands management can adapt to center Indigenous leadership.

Flyfishing in a river

4. Climate Change Jeopardizes Food Production

Variable temperature conditions under climate change means future summers may be cool and damp one year, but scorching and dry the next. Farmers will struggle to know what to plant in the face of unpredictable extremes. Low yields not only spell economic trouble for farmers, but consumers as well. Acting on climate change is imperative for securing our food supply and stable work for more than 173,000 workers employed by Colorado’s agricultural industry, which contributes more than $41 billion to our economy.

For Colorado’s agricultural communities on the front lines of COVID-19 and climate change, urgent action has never been more important. 

Agriculture, wheat with blue sky background

We can already observe the effects of climate change in Colorado, and some communities – especially communities of color and lower-income communities – are acutely exposed to these harmful impacts. Policies like the Climate Action Plan, passed in 2019, set goals for a healthier future, charting a course toward climate justice. 

Now, it’s up to all of us to take action to ensure Colorado’s climate policies make this future a reality.