Written by Emelie Frojen

1) MYTH: They’re incredibly expensive.


Fact: Colorado is the cheapest place in the U.S. to buy an Electric Vehicle.

First off, the United States government offers $7,500 in federal tax credits for purchasing an electric car. In addition to that, Colorado offers another $5,000 off at the time of the purchase, making it the cheapest state to get an electric vehicle. Colorado locales such as Fort Collins, Aurora, Durango, Garfield county, and Colorado Springs also have programs that offer discounts on electric vehicles. Our largest utility provider, Xcel, has partnered with Nissan to make many aspects of purchasing and owning an electric vehicle cheaper, including one year of free charging at public stations.

2. MYTH: Road trips are out of the question.


Fact: There are countless charging stations in both urban and rural Colorado.

Photo via Green Car Reports

Switching to an electric vehicle doesn’t mean you have give up weekend skiing or long summer road trips. With a little research and planning ahead, you’ll find that an electric vehicle can get you anywhere a gas-powered car can go. Websites like Plugshare are popping up all over the internet with tools to find charging stations that are fast and compatible with your car. They even have a trip planning tool so you can travel with ease. In addition to the ample amount of charging stations we have right now, the recent money Colorado received from a settlement with Volkswagen will be used to add around 600 new fast-charging stations to our state. These fast charging stations, referred to as “DC chargers,” charge electric vehicles for 170 miles in 30 minutes, making it easy to get around in an electric vehicle. On top of that, the tech industry has its sight set on improving charging stations as electric vehicles gain popularity.

3. MYTH: Electricity isn’t more sustainable than gasoline.


Fact: Colorado’s grid is getting greener, and so are electric vehicles.

Photo via High Plains Public Radio

An EV on the road today has dramatically lower emissions of the two pollutants that contribute to ozone pollution (a huge problem for Colorado): volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. They have 99 percent lower lifecycle emissions of volatile organic compounds and 63 percent lower life-cycle emissions of nitrogen oxides. Electric vehicles also emit 43 percent fewer greenhouse gases than the average gas-powered vehicle. On top of this, Xcel Energy just released a four-year plan, which will result in making renewable energy 50% of their energy mix in Colorado. Under this new energy plan, much of Colorado’s electricity mix will be so green that by 2026 an EV that you buy today will have greenhouse gas emissions as low as a car that gets 88 mpg! Even if our grid were was run entirely on oil, natural gas, and coal, electric vehicles still use two thirds less energy than gasoline vehicles.

4. MYTH: They put too much pressure on our electric grid.


Fact: The American grid is currently very well-equipped to handle millions of electric vehicles.

Photo via Nissan

It may seem like electric vehicles would increase demand for electricity so much that we could get a power shortage, but in reality, all of the peak power use in the U.S. comes during summer afternoons, when air conditioning units are turned on. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are usually charged overnight when electricity use is at its lowest. A study done by Navigant Research found that we can add millions of electric cars to the current American grid without requiring any new power generation. This will help the grid operate more efficiently, which means that by 2030, for every additional EV added, utility customers in aggregate receive $630 in benefit.

5. MYTH: Electric vehicle batteries are dangerous to dispose of.


Fact: They’re easily recyclable into materials for solar and wind energy.

Photo via Green Car Reports

Even though electric vehicle batteries are safe for landfills, they won’t have to be put there. Lithium-ion batteries can be recycled for many uses- including solar and wind energy! They can also be made with recycled materials.

Photo via Vail Daily

In conclusion, there is no doubt that electric vehicles are our future and a critical piece to tackling growing clean energy in our state and country. They are more economical, emit fewer pollutants, and aren’t required to run on a limited resource. With that said, we still need to put policies in place that support the deployment of electric vehicles — join us and help us fight for them!

 

Header photo via wallhaven.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

A year ago, we reported on the West Elk Coal Mine, a highly contested mine in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest. At that time, we and many other Coloradans were concerned about Arch Coal’s proposal to expand its coal mine, which would destroy 1,720 acres of forest.

Now, those concerns have become reality. Just two weeks ago, the Trump administration’s Forest Service announced that it is forging ahead with a plan to allow the company to expand the mine. If approved, this decision will cause irreparable harm on the national forest in more ways than one.

To take a step back, the West Elk coal mine is located in western Colorado, north of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s an extremely controversial mine for a variety of reasons, including its location inside a roadless area of a national forest, its exemption from a new moratorium on coal leasing, and the fact that it is owned by formerly bankrupt company Arch Coal. But perhaps the most disturbing issue is the air pollution that it already causes, which would increase if the mine expands.

Mount Gunnison towering over the Sunset Roadless Area. The aspen forests on the right would be damaged by the mine expansion. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The West Elk mine has already been the single largest source of methane pollution in Colorado, spewing 58,000 tons of methane into the air every year. Methane — an immensely potent greenhouse gas — has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, and is a major contributor to climate pollution.

Although Colorado has some of the strongest rules in the nation for methane pollution from oil and gas activity, as the Colorado Independent reports, “Unlike methane from oil and gas drilling, coal mine methane remains unregulated at both state and federal levels.” The proposed expansion to the coal mine could mean emitting enough methane to negate half of the emissions prevented by Colorado’s methane rules for oil and gas.

Plus, under Arch Coal’s plan, more than six miles of forest will be bulldozed for roads and up to 48 drilling pads will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which connects to the West Elk Wilderness. The area is a rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests that provide habitat for native black bear, elk, lynx, and cutthroat trout.

The actions by the Trump administration to move forward with this mine expansion are even more disturbing because of how they deal with the impacts of government projects on climate change. Previously, government environmental reviews like this had to take into account the impact of the project on climate change. Now, the Forest Service claims that calculating climate impacts is not an “appropriate tool at the project level” and is “no longer representative of governmental policy.” This comes out of a Trump executive order that disbanded the agency working group associated with it.

Hikers in the Sunset Roadless area near the West Elk mine. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The Forest Service wants to give Arch Coal access to more than 17 million tons of coal — but at what cost? The West Elk Mine already has over a decade of coal in reserve, and this decision not only ignores the economic realities that face the coal industry, but it generates even more greenhouse gas emissions, further exacerbating climate change. Coal has been central to the local economy in this area for generation, but this coal mine expansion is a bad idea for the forest and for our climate.

The negative consequences of expanding the West Elk Coal Mine and the damage it would cause to our national forest are obvious. The U.S. Forest Service is asking the public to weigh in on this problematic West Elk Coal Mine expansion. Take action today to send a message to the administration that we value our public lands too much to watch them be destroyed. Follow this link to sign a petition to the Forest Service.

This one decision could destroy aspen groves, displace native wildlife, and vent methane pollution into our air. It’s a sign of what to expect under the Trump administration in terms of our public lands — and it’s up to us to stop it.

Cover image: The West Elk Mine. Image from WildEarth Guardians flickr.

Around the country, over 300,000 people participated in more than 370 marches. In Denver, although the weather forecasted a foot of snow, more than 5,000 people joined the march to show that Coloradans want action to address climate change.

Missed out on the march last weekend? Don’t worry, here are some of the best signs from the day that demonstrate how witty, dedicated and passionate the thousands of Coloradans who attended are about climate action and environmental justice.

1. “There are no jobs on a dead planet”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

2. “March Now or Swim Later” and “YOLO Earth! (You Only Live on Earth)”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

3. “Dare to Care for our Air President Billionaire”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

4. “Defend, Not Defund»

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

5. “Resist Bigly”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

6. “Make the Earth Cool Again”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

7. “Heed the Lorax, Save the Planet”

Will McKay / Will McKay Photography

 

8. “Wake Up!”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

9. “People and Planet Over Petroleum and Profit”

Alejandro Silva

 

10. “We Can Fix This”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

Written by Pete Maysmith

President Trump recently signed an executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, along with a host of other Obama-era policies designed to protect our health and environment from climate change. While Trump claimed this action was to promote energy independence and bring back coal jobs — both of which are not likely to be influenced by this — in reality it is a clumsy attempt to bolster the fossil industry at the expense of our health and our climate.

Fortunately, Colorado and the West will keep making progress in spite of the president’s backward efforts. This is evident because of popular sentiment, market forces, and the opportunities that exist in our state.

In Colorado (and increasingly across America), citizens understand that climate change is a threat to our livelihood and we need to take action. Following the release of the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Conservation Colorado collected thousands of signatures from Coloradans wanting to see quick action from our state to comply with the plan. Those people, along with 66 percent of our state, still want to see climate action, even if it isn’t in the form of a national plan.

Conservation Colorado’s Protégete team in 2015 holds a poster with over 3500 signatures from Coloradans calling for climate action.

In fact, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Coloradans support increasing the share of energy from renewable sources like wind and solar to create jobs and economic opportunity in rural Colorado. That’s not a partisan divide — Coloradans from both sides of the aisle understand that we should lead on renewable energy, both because it is a linchpin for clean air and because it means economic growth, including in rural areas.

The impacts of climate change on our forests, rivers, and air are becoming more evident in Colorado. These changes threaten who we are as Coloradans, from wildfires in March to extreme drought predictions for the Colorado river. The evidence is clear and cannot be ignored, and the public is realizing that more and more. Across the U.S., concern about global warming has reached a three-decade high.

As public concern grows, so do the market forces that caused coal to slow down in the first place. Wind and solar prices are dropping, while their use skyrockets. The number of jobs in Colorado’s solar industry increased by 20 percent in 2016, as the state’s solar capacity jumped 70 percent. At the same time, the state is ranked second in the nation for wind jobs, with 14,800 workers currently. Wind jobs are expected to grow by 54.7 percent in Colorado over the next four years.

Coloradans know that to promote jobs and help rural economies, we need to pursue industries with potential for growth. Right now, that’s wind and solar — and the opportunities in Colorado are limitless. Wind and solar are already providing real income through taxes, benefits to farmers, good paying jobs, and supporting the general economies of small towns on Colorado’s eastern plains. In many places, wind companies lease land from farmers to install wind turbines, providing a new income stream on land that is also usable for other agricultural activities. Already, more than $5.4 billion worth of renewable energy projects have been built in eastern Colorado, and we have the capacity for more.

Colorado’s had a promising start to lead on climate solutions. Our renewable energy standard of 30% by 2020 and the “Clean Air Clean Jobs Act” of 2010 that converted coal-fired power plants to clean resources like wind and solar put us on a great trajectory. Our state has proven it is possible to reduce carbon pollution in ways that boost the economy.

Looking forward, we’re working on a host of ideas to further cut down carbon pollution in Colorado. From fighting for investment in alternative modes of transportation to renewing a successful energy efficiency program, there’s a lot happening at the state level.

No matter what politicians or bureaucrats in Washington, DC do or say, here in Colorado we keep fighting to clean up air pollution and combat climate change. States have led and will continue to lead the way when it comes to the clean energy revolution. Despite President Trump’s intransigence, there is hope and it lies in state and local action. By adding more renewables, working with partners, and focusing in on the state level, we can get things done in Colorado and serve as a leader for other states to follow.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

If one takes Donald Trump’s words at face value, admittedly a dicey proposition, his administration and the anti-conservation majority in the U.S. Congress are likely to launch a volley of assaults on Colorado’s land, water, and climate. And yet, as the state’s largest environmental organization, we remain hopeful for the future. It’s not going to be easy, and the next four years will pose significant challenges to our Colorado values and our outdoor way of life. But we’re going to keep fighting in every way we can — and we know Coloradans stand with us.

First, let’s look at a few of the big challenges we’re facing from our next president:

  • He’s a climate denier. Someone who has called climate change a “hoax” and may put an oil executive in charge of our public lands does not inspire confidence for leading our country forward with renewable energy and addressing the climate crisis. The President-elect has pledged to roll back environmental laws and regulations that will keep us safe and healthy, from the Clean Power Plan to crucial limits on methane pollution. In Colorado, climate change is projected to cause droughts, hotter temperatures, and health issues, so it’s essential that we act to fight it in any way possible.
  • It’s not looking good for land conservation and wildlife protection. We could be facing a four-year “drought” of new protections for land and wildlife across the country. In addition, with an anti-conservation Congress, there are good reasons to be concerned for some of our bedrock environmental laws. This means the Antiquities Act, which was used in Colorado to protect Browns Canyon National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Colorado National Monument, could be under threat. Some congressional Republicans have been desperate to roll back key protections in the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that protects wildlife.
  • Oil and gas activity in Colorado. Image by Soren Jespersen.

    Dirty fuels will be promoted. President-elect Trump has pledged to increase dirty energy production, likely by accelerating permitting to drill or frack on our public lands. Colorado has significant coal, oil, and natural gas under our lands so we will need to be on high alert to counter a “drill, baby, drill” mentality.
  • The Colorado River is at a critical tipping point. A recent study by the University of Colorado found that the next president must act to prevent widespread water shortages in the Colorado River Basin. A continuing 16-year drought puts the entire Southwestern U.S. in danger of possible water cuts, but so far, Trump has not presented a plan of action.

Of course, none of this is certain. Trump’s candidacy was remarkably policy-free, and when he does talk about policy he frequently contradicts himself with the space of even a few days. All this means there is significant uncertainty about where he stands on key environmental issues. For example, at one point he endorsed local control of oil and gas during a visit to Colorado but it is not clear if he stills holds that view. He has also swayed back and forth on supporting efforts to sell off our public lands, although it’s important to note that the Republican platform contains language supporting this costly and unpopular idea.

At the same time, economic forces beyond the control of the president also provide tremendous uncertainty about the next four years. Oil and natural gas prices, and the impact of natural gas prices on coal, are controlled by the markets. In the past few years, we’ve seen natural gas development outpace coal due in large part to market forces. Even if the president-elect goes all-out to “bring back coal,” he may have little success.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, and Short-Term Energy Outlook (March 2016)

Meanwhile, renewable energy is booming as wind and solar are becoming more and more affordable. Wind and solar energy already support about 4,250 jobs in Eastern Colorado alone, far exceeding the approximately 1,400 jobs in Colorado’s coal industry.

At Conservation Colorado, we’ve got hope. Our work will continue, and it is more important now than ever.

We’ve got three substantial assets on our side:

Protesters fill the streets in downtown Denver, November 10, 2016

  • The will of the people. In Colorado, 77 percent of voters say environmental issues are an important factor in deciding whether to elect a public official. 72 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect public lands. 76 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote renewable energy like wind and solar. 77 percent of Colorado voters would rather use water more wisely than divert water from rural rivers. There are more numbers like this, but they all boil down to the same idea: Coloradans have strong conservation values, and want to see them represented in our government. Also, let’s remember, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5% here in Colorado — Coloradans did not endorse Trump’s vision for our environmental future.
  • Supporters on both sides of the aisle in the state Legislature. We fought for a pro-conservation majority in both the state House and state Senate this year, and we succeeded by expanding our conservation majority in the state House. However, the Senate remains under anti-conservation control. But conservation and the environment are bipartisan issues, and we’ve got several powerful examples of what we can accomplish when our elected officials work across the aisle on environmental issues. Last year with a similarly divided legislature, we scored big by passing electric vehicle tax credits, the first-in-the-nation Colorado Public Lands Day, and legalizing rain barrels. We’re looking forward to more of this bipartisan work in the upcoming year, with opportunities to modernize our transportation system, grow our booming outdoor recreation economy, and further keep Colorado a leader for the nation when it comes to energy and the environment.
  • Colorado’s governor is standing up for the environment. In his first post-election interview, Governor John Hickenlooper cited health care, climate action, and public lands as the three main areas of concern for Colorado under President-elect Donald Trump. He vowed that Colorado will continue striving to cut carbon pollution and further clean our air, and will not pull back our strong methane regulations for the oil and gas industry. He also expressed concern for protecting public lands, saying, “Those lands should not be put up for auction.” We’re pleased that the governor is taking a stand and allowing Colorado to chart its own path.

Governor Hickenlooper with Conservation Colorado staff, November 2016

Above all, we will stand together as a community to defend our natural resources and keep up the fight for the future. We’re not alone — a majority of Coloradans share these values and expressed them by voting for pro-conservation candidates in this year’s election.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Climate change and rising temperatures don’t simply mean you need to get a nicer air conditioner. They also have major implications for public health. Research has shown myriad ways climate change will provide challenges for Coloradans staying healthy and safe. For example, climate change will cause disease-carrying insects like like mosquitos and ticks can move to colder areas. It means natural disasters will become less predictable and more severe. And it means allergens and air pollution will worsen.

In order to get a more thorough take on what’s at stake if we don’t act on climate, we interviewed Ken Scissors, a physician at St. Mary’s and a board member at Conservation Colorado. He’s been practicing medicine since 1980 and his insight on the effects of climate change and health are eye-opening.

According to Dr. Scissors, there are four overarching areas where climate change could affect our health:

1. Air quality

Climate change is linked to poor air quality and air pollution. Warmer air helps trap and hold smog around cities, so rising temperatures can actually worsen existing air pollution. Colorado is already vulnerable – 3 of the 25 worst cities in the US for ozone are in Colorado, according to the American Lung Association. These risks are most significant for lung and heart problems, as well as cancers and other disorders. These health issues already affect low-income communities more than average, and this effect will only grow worse with rising temperatures.

2. Natural disasters

Climate change also brings a substantial increase in frequency and devastation of natural disasters. Aside from the immediate injuries and death that can be caused by hurricanes, floods, and fires, they also lead to longer-standing issues. Sanitation can be compromised, illnesses spreads easily, and health care delivery is often obstructed. This health effect of climate change will be localized and dramatic, and difficult to predict or prepare for. The Union of Concerned Scientists highlighted wildfires as a major risk for Colorado. US Forest Service scientists predicted the area of wildfire burns to double by 2050. Burn scars also contribute to the severity of flooding damage. In short, Colorado may be safe from hurricanes or sea level rise – but we’re not exempt from the catastrophic effects of climate change.

3. Diseases

In general, harmful microbes, bacteria, and the animals that carry them (also known as “vectors”) prefer warm conditions. Disease-carrying animals like mosquitos, ticks, and rats will be able to move into previously-cooler areas. This increases the risk of devastating diseases like zika, ebola, hantavirus, and lyme. These diseases historically were limited by geography, but today their ranges are already expanding. Colorado is especially vulnerable to increases in West Nile, plague, and hantavirus. Biological hazards from climate change also include pollen and dust – as summers get longer, we’ll see more problems with dust and pollen in areas that never used to struggle with these problems.

4. Heat-related issues

High temperatures can also be problems in and of themselves. Heat stroke and heat stress are real risks for people who work outside or who do not have air conditioning. But for places that are already hot, for those who cannot afford air conditioning, and for people who are already in poor health, this can be a life or death matter. Like many risk factors, this is most likely to affect the sick, old, young, and poor.

Part of the struggle with climate change is that it’s a long and gradual process. Weather events can go against the grain of greater climatic shifts. The same goes for the health effects. It’s almost impossible to say if climate change caused a specific hurricane, a bad day of smog, or a breakout of a microbial disease. But we can look at trend lines and see that the frequency and severity of these events is changing.

Prevention is the best cure for most ailments, and this is no exception. The sooner and more aggressively we can slow down or even reverse climate change, the better things will come out for us. There are also some things we could do to anticipate and be proactive against health risks in the future.

We can put more resources and science into disaster preparedness and disaster relief. We can identify weaknesses and vulnerable populations and put resources into being able to reduce risks or act quickly. And importantly, we can continue working to cut carbon pollution and transition to clean energy sooner rather than later. Identifying these future threats to our health and working to decrease their impact is the only way to move forward.

As the climate warms, agriculture in Colorado is on the front lines. The agriculture industry in Colorado is worth $41 billion, and so the impacts that climate change will have on food production should be of tremendous importance to all of us.

We interviewed two researchers to get a sense of what the impacts may be. Colorado State University researchers Dr. Pat Byrne and Dr. Scott Denning both work to understand how crops can adapt to climate change.Their research may help farmers identify ways to adapt to climate change in the future.

The Problems that Colorado Agriculture is Facing

Dr. Denning explained that as the global climate changes, average temperature will rise sharply. Because Colorado is so far inland, this effect will be stronger because large bodies of water help mitigate temperature swings and Colorado is far from our oceans or Great Lakes. We can expect temperature increases in Colorado to be 1.5 to 2 times as large as global averages. Imagine the climate of Albuquerque as far north as Greeley.

Hotter temperatures come with longer growing seasons. But they also bring major problems for agriculture. Hotter temperatures make plants “thirstier” even as soaring temperatures reduce Colorado’s snowpack. That means a hotter Colorado is also a drier Colorado.

So, farmers will be needing to get more water for irrigation. With booming population growth, obtaining water rights is already challenging in Colorado. Dr. Denning’s biggest worry is water issues – for both plants and people. We’ll see an increase in irrigation needs for agriculture as snowpack decreases and city populations increase. As he puts it, “Where the heck are they gonna get the water?”

We get most of our water from snowpack. We divert about 83% of collected water to agriculture. Only 17% goes to cities. We’ve already seen a 20% decrease in snowpack.

Dr. Scott Denning

To make matters worse, climate change also creates more variability. Future summers may be cool and damp one year, but scorching and dry the next. As Dr. Byrne points out, it’s one thing to breed a strain of wheat that can withstand hot and dry. It’s another to create a strain that can withstand all extremes. Farmers will struggle to know what to plant in the face of the extremes predicted. Low yields not only spell economic trouble for farmers, but consumers as well.

The Research

Farmers are already adapting to this unpredictable world. They’re implementing low-till or no-till methods to reduce water loss, getting crop insurance, and starting to plant crops like sorghum and millet farther north. Crop diversity is good insurance against climate variability.

While the farmers who produce our food try to adapt, scientists are also searching for more drastic solutions. Dr. Byrne hopes his research on plant genetics will find or create a strain of wheat that thrives in a wide variety of conditions. He worries that common strains of wheat won’t be profitable for farmers in the future. He says of the struggle, “The biggest challenge is variability, not major changes in one direction. If, for example, we could [selectively breed plants] for increasingly hot and dry places. That would be hard but it would be possible. But what makes it hard is the swinging back and forth.”

Implementation

So far, scientists haven’t come up with a one-size-fits-all climate change solution for agriculture. But they are constantly looking for and researching new ideas. One of these is a technique called precision agriculture. Raj Kholsa, another CSU researcher, lays precision agriculture out like this: “Precision farming can help today’s farmer meet these new challenges by applying the right input, in the right amount, to the right place, at the right time, and in the right manner. The importance and success of precision farming lies in these five R’s.”

Farmers can remedy financial stress from low yields in other ways as well. Some farmers in Europe have had success in partnering with renewable energy companies to share land. The income from leasing land for windmills or solar can make a difference in tough years. Some farmers may take out crop insurance, which will pay them a sum of money if the harvest is bad.

Acting on climate change is imperative for our future food security as well as the current job security of farmers. Aside from supporting climate change champions politically, you can help by supporting local research institutions as they work to find solutions. Support local farmers financially through CSAs and farmer’s markets, and ask them if they use any of the mitigation efforts mentioned above. Supporting the right people with your dollars can help them make bigger changes in the future.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Until last year, Volkswagen was perhaps best known for beetle cars and hippie vans. But in September of 2015, Volkswagen saw a storm of negative attention when the U.S. government found out VW had produced cars that cheated in emissions tests. In the end, Volkswagen admitted that 11 million of their vehicles worldwide were equipped with software that allowed the cars to cheat during emissions tests, making it seem like the vehicles were ultra-clean when in reality they were polluting far over legal limits.

VW Settlement infographicEmissions tests and air pollution limits are in place to protect human health and the air we breathe. Volkswagen’s “too-good-to-be-true” clean diesel cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) on the road, but hid these emissions during tests. These smog-forming pollutants, according to one estimate,will be responsible for dozens of premature deaths in the U.S. Nearly 600,000 cheating vehicles were sold in the U.S. before Volkswagen was found out, including 9,350 in Colorado.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to hold the company accountable, and the company agreed to pay large sums to reduce automobile emissions in each state where their cars were sold.

For Colorado, this means our state will receive $61.3 million to be used for certain activities to reduce emissions. It’s up to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to decide how the money will be spent, and the agency is currently accepting public input on the decision.

This is a huge opportunity for Colorado to boost our transportation infrastructure in a way that will protect our clean air. Because VW’s cheating caused serious air pollution in our state, we are calling on CDPHE to maximize the benefits that this settlement could have for Colorado in terms of cleaning up our air clean and reducing carbon pollution. This means several things:


1. Allocate 15 percent of the funding (the maximum allowed by the settlement) to building out the charging network for electric vehicles (EV) across the state.

Colorado is currently the best state in the country for buying an EV because of our innovative tax incentives. But it’s important that we make it the best state in the nation to drive an EV.  Some Coloradans are hesitant to buy an EV because they are concerned there aren’t enough charging stations to get around the state (a fear also known as “range anxiety.”) We want to make sure there is a trustworthy network of charging stations across the state and the region.

If 15 percent of the VW money goes towards building charging stations, this could result in 60 fast charging stations on our highways. Fast charging stations can provide an 80 percent charge for an EV in 20-30 minutes.

Electric charging stations are far cheaper than gas stations to build, and a National Science Foundation study in 2015 showed that increasing the number of charging stations by 10 percent per million people boosted EV sales by nearly 11 percent in the area. Constructing new fast charging stations is one of the best ways for Colorado to incentivize use of EVs and clean up our air.

2. Work with surrounding states to cooperatively electrify all of the major highway corridors.

Sixty new charging stations would mean Colorado could position one every 30-50 miles along the state’s major highways. That’s enough to electrify 3,000 miles of Colorado highways, or all of I-70, I-25, and I-76, as well as most of U.S. 285, U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 40 and U.S. 50! This settlement provides an opportunity to build a network that makes EV trips practical in most places in our state.

Colorado highway infrastructure

And not only should we electrify our own highways, but we can and should coordinate with neighboring states to enable EV driving throughout the intermountain west.

3. Use the remainder of the funds to replace older diesel buses with clean electric buses.

The remainder of the settlement funds — 85 percent or about $52 million — could fund up to 125 new electric buses, which would be a huge leap in the shift to a cleaner transportation fleet.

Electric buses are by far the best option for a clean transportation future, as opposed to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles, because they emit far fewer health-harming pollutants. Transitioning to electric buses could cut 90,000 tons of carbon pollution over the lifespan of the buses — that’s the same as taking 17,000 cars off the road for a year!

Graphs that show greatly decreased NOx and VOC emissions in new transit buses

Importantly, electric buses would help clean up the air for disadvantaged communities that suffer greater health impacts from air pollution. Traffic pollution has grave impacts on our health, from asthma attacks in children to impaired lung function, premature death, death from cardiovascular diseases, and cardiovascular morbidity. Plus, bus routes often run through dense areas and neighborhoods with high volumes of pedestrians. Electric buses would reduce the noise and eliminate diesel fumes, benefiting those neighborhoods.

In a rapidly warming world where climate change is slated to have dangerous impacts in Colorado, this is a great opportunity to advance public transit in a way that is good for our air and our climate.  All in all, $61.3 million is enough to jump start Colorado’s clean transportation future. We’re working to tell the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment that the best way to use the money is the way that will benefit all Coloradans.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Outdoor recreation in a warming world is not getting easier. 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, increasing the risk of running out of daylight.

Colorado Springs reflects many of the impacts of climate change on recreation seen across the state. For example, there was a ski hill at the Broadmoor until 1991, which is almost inconceivable to many newer residents to the Front Range. Ice climbing routes at popular local spots such as Silver Cascade are getting more and more unpredictable. And diminishing snowpack means less spring runoff, making whitewater sports difficult.

All of these things are on the mind of David Crye, Assistant Director of Colorado College’s Office of Outdoor Education in Colorado Springs. He helps organize skiing, climbing, rafting, and backpacking trips for students. Climate change affects his job, just as it threatens all of Colorado’s outdoor businesses, ski companies, and weekend warriors. Outdoor recreation is a huge part of the draw of Colorado College, so the program is important for administrators as well as for students.

David’s job revolves around planning educational outings for the students at Colorado College. This is getting challenging as Colorado’s fickle seasons become even harder to predict.

Hit-and-miss seasons for kayaking or ice climbing trips are frustrating for students and staff alike. When students are researching and proposing a trip, water or ice levels may be good–but when it comes to the day before the trip, conditions may have totally changed. This is frustrating for anyone trying to plan personal trips, but is especially problematic for structured programs like guiding businesses or school outings. These trips can’t easily be moved or rescheduled.

“Our programs exist to get people outside, expose them to nature and activities and find their place. College is about getting out trying out new things and learning – which isn’t always in the classroom,” explained David. With climate shifts causing fickle weather, students who were excited to learn about ice climbing or enjoy a scenic river may lose their chance.

While Colorado’s weather has always been reliably unreliable, climate change makes things even worse. This matters for outdoor programs, as David points out.  “Outdoor education helps our community be more cohesive and more in-tune with the world and nature. If students aren’t getting out and experiencing nature, or seeing the changes that are happening,  why would they even know or care to be an advocate for upcoming generations?”

Even historic trips are coming into question. Normally, Colorado College runs an Avalanche Safety course in mid-February. Last year, the snowpack was too low. Students got the same education in avalanche safety, but they missed out on the hands-on experience. David worries that these leaders may not actually have the experience needed to safely lead future trips, because their training took place in such bad snow.

In short, climate change doesn’t just affect high alpine creatures, coastal communities, or big ski resorts. It affects almost all forms of outdoor recreation, threatening our seasons and making planning nearly impossible. Soaring temperatures and unpredictable weather events are a major headache for guides, outdoor enthusiasts, and outing programs.

If current predictions hold true, what is now a major headache will soon become much more troubling. Boulder, Fort Collins, and Greeley were all recently named as cities that will be heavily affected by climate change. Greeley has seen one of the biggest increase in 100-degree days since 1970; Fort Collins is among the cities with the biggest increases in 90-degree days. Boulder is getting muggier – it’s ranked in the top three cities with the biggest dew point increase since 1970.

All these statistics show that you don’t have to be an ice climber to feel the effects of climate change. Daily bike commutes, summer runs, and walks with the dog could all change drastically.

Our multi-billion outdoor recreation economy is especially sensitive to the impacts of climate change. We can work to fix this by supporting good climate policy, electing leaders who make climate action a priority, and working on ways to limit our own personal use.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Imagine a game of Jenga. As each wooden block is removed from the tower, it becomes less and less stable. While the removal of one block has little effect, the removal of another will cause the entire tower to collapse.

Now, imagine each Jenga block is a species. There are plants, snakes, birds, mammals, and all the rest. Imagine each player is a threat to an ecosystem. There’s climate, habitat loss, and pollution. As each player removes a wobbly, loose piece, the entire tower gets shakier. Water pollution may remove a crustacean. Habitat loss easily takes out a few big predators. New diseases or fungus with expanding ranges hurt amphibians and bats.

The tower gets shakier.

But climate change is the biggest threat of all, the one that could cause the entire tower to tumble.

Maxwell Plichta with his research subject, the pika.

This is the scenario we are faced with now. Colorado’s animals are facing threats from all sides, with climate change front and center. Take, for example, the pika. This high-alpine critter is “as charismatic and curious as you and me,” according to Maxwell Plichta. He’s been researching pika for 3 years with the Front Range Pika Project. He loves seeing pika on hikes and points out that they’re also an important species for gauging how the environment is reacting to climate change. They’re a furry, high-alpine “canary in a coal mine.”

Pika are in especially bad shape when it comes to climate change Jenga. These little critters don’t do well above 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If they can’t find a place to cool off, they die. Comfortable in the winter and high-alpine environments, pika can’t do well at both extremes. In Colorado, pika live in high mountaintops. This means that they’ve got nowhere to go if their home gets too warm.

Pika have already disappeared from a third of their habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Recent studies show pika are doing OK in Colorado – perhaps due to the high mountain habitat available. According to pika researcher Liesl Erb, “It is good news that pikas are doing better in the Southern Rocky Mountains than some other places. It is likely that the geographic traits of the Rockies are a big reason why we are not seeing significant declines, at least not yet.”

According to Erb’s research, the places in the southern Rockies that lost pika were the driest, not the hottest. She points out that some models predict the exact sort of hot, dry climate in Colorado’s future that dooms pikas. This just goes to show how difficult it is to predict how climate change will affect wildlife.

Pika are considered an indicator species. Removing their Jenga block from the tower may not cause its collapse. It shows the danger what could happen with unabated climate change. Pika are early, easy targets. Their demise may predict danger for less vulnerable species later. In other words, disappearing pikas could be a stark warning of what is to come.

Emissions and carbon pollution threaten the air, water, and climate of both animals and people. We can protect animals from climate change the same way we protect people – support good climate policy, elect leaders who make climate action a priority, and work on ways to curb our own personal use.