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As the mother of a toddler with another child on the way, the high stakes of this election have taken on new meaning for me. As the Mayor of Lafayette, the same is true.
I am one of the many local elected officials on the ground when a natural disaster strikes our community. In the past few years, Colorado has experienced epic flooding, increased forest fires and record-breaking heat. Local communities must deal with the costs of rebuilding in the aftermath of such disasters.
And yet all this disruption in Colorado — and beyond — has done little to turn the dial this election towards addressing climate change, which continues to impact our state at an alarming and accelerated rate. Not a single question was asked about climate change throughout all three presidential debates. Not one.
During the flood of 2013, the economic and human costs of climate change were on full display. Nearly 2,000 people were rescued, and an estimated 19,000 homes were damaged with 1,500 destroyed. Nine Coloradans lost their lives.
Years later, the rebuilding continues in devastated communities. The economic loss of the flood in Colorado has been pegged at $2 billion, a staggering figure. An increase in flooding is consistent with a warming planet, as warmer air holds more moisture and can thus lead to heavier precipitation events.
Forest fires, too, are now a continual threat, so much so that even the term wildfire “season” seems inaccurate: One fire season essentially runs into the next. Climate change is contributing to drier winters and warmer springs, which increases the likelihood of forest fires. 2016 is slated to be the hottest on record, again, with many reports finding that ever larger, more intense fires in the American West are all but guaranteed in the years ahead.
Our children suffer from the health effects of oil and gas pollution, a major contributor to climate change. Such pollution leads to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, which research shows triggers more than 750,000 asthma attacks each year in the United States in children under the age of 18. Denver ranks third in the nation for the number of asthma attacks children here suffer each year.
Asthma attacks also cause children to miss school. In the Denver metro area, asthma is linked to 14,986 days of missed school and 44,220 restricted activity days. In Colorado, 86 schools are within half a mile of an oil and gas operation site. With over 50,000 sites across the state, the result is that our kids are exposed to toxic pollution as they live, learn and play in their own communities.
The Outdoor Industry Association recently partnered with 77 other Colorado businesses to publish an open letter citing the urgent need for our elected leaders to take swift and substantive action on climate disruption. The letter states that in Colorado, ‘climate change isn’t a partisan issue but an economic one,’ with the outdoor recreation industry contributing $13.2 billion in sales and creating 125,000 jobs across the state. In other words, livelihoods are on the line.
Our ski industry and mountain communities rely on a snowpack that is increasingly unstable due to climate change. But the impact of an altered snowpack doesn’t stop there. As the letter asserts, this snowpack, in turn, also affects Colorado’s water and spring runoff, which impacts our rafting and kayaking industries and the myriad other outdoor activities that are at the core of our tourism-dependent economy.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Climate disruption is not a red issue or blue issue. It is everyone’s issue. We are in this fight together. If we do not act to address the causes and consequences of a changing climate now, by making responsible decisions about our energy economy, our children and grandchildren are the ones who will continue to suffer and pay the consequences. Our children’s health, our economy, our livelihoods, recreation and Colorado’s environment are all at risk now. Unchecked climate change will only increase that risk.
On November 8th, we have the opportunity to elect leaders who will prioritize our families health ahead of polluter’s profits. Parents have a powerful voice in this election. Join me this election in voting as if your child’s health depends on it — because it does.