DENVER, CO – Every Colorado citizen lives in a county affected recently by weather-related disasters, such as wildfires according to an interactive, online map released today that crunches data from the federal government. In addition to the impacts climate change has had on Colorado’s forests and wildlife, scientists say it is also exacerbating some extreme weather events across the state.
“From bark beetle infestations to increasing risk of wildfires climate change is already hitting close to home for Colorado’s mountain communities,” said Anna McDevitt, lead organizer with Environment Colorado. “And without action to stop climate change, scientists say these extremes—and their impact on Coloradans—will only get worse.”
Environment Colorado researchers, who created the online map, Hitting Close to Home, found that since September 2010 Colorado experienced six weather-related disasters including severe storms, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and droughts. Scientists predict unchecked global warming will increase the severity or the frequency of many of these events, such as the historic 2013 flood in Boulder County.
In addition to statistics for recent weather-related disasters, the map includes case studies and personal stories from Americans impacted by extreme weather events across the country, including Coloradans.
“Things are definitely changing out here, and not for the better,” says Ross Wilmore with the US Forest Service on the White river National Forest. “We are trying very hard to work smarter and faster against heavy fire seasons to make sure people and environments aren’t destroyed, but climate change is our most formidable opponent as it brings in longer and more severe droughts, and intensifies the ocean oscillations that make fire seasons worse.”
While more frequent and more extreme weather events may continue to impact counties across the state, experts say Colorado’s mountain communities are going to be hit the hardest with climate impacts.
"We've all heard the global statistics on receding glaciers and sea ice loss, but here in Colorado we see climate change being manifested in our forests,” said Jamie Werner, Forest Director with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. “According to ACES' Forest Forecasts tool, Colorado could lose up to 90% of its subalpine forests by 2080 under current rates of carbon emissions.”
A recent study conducted at the University of Colorado-Boulder found that through rising temperatures and other impacts climate change will also hugely impact Colorado wildlife, including most hikers’ favorite – the pika.
"We’re predicting that alpine pikas will have trouble where the snowpack is thinning,” said Dr. Chris Ray, University researcher. We could see a complete loss of pikas from Rocky Mountain National Park during this century, and we've already seen pika declines in and around the Park."
The analysis comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants that also incentivize the development of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy. Colorado has said it will move forward despite the stay.
“Ultimately, we’re confident that the Clean Power Plan will survive polluter attacks in the courts,” said McDevitt. “But in the mean time, states should be moving forward with clean energy solutions – for the sake our climate, our air, and our health – just as Gov. Hickenlooper and his administration is doing.”
Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius. In December, nearly 200 nations reached a global accord to limit warming to no more than another degree – a benchmark scientists say is critical to avert even more severe and frequent weather disasters, and preserve our planet.
"We have a choice in what we want our future forests to look like,” said Werner. “Here in Aspen, the City is developing a plan to reduce 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."
“To meet our commitment in Paris and avoid the most dangerous climate impacts,” concluded McDevitt, “ultimately we need to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”
Environment Colorado is a statewide, citizen funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentColorado.org