Experts meet in Avon to enjoy a beautiful fall, discuss impacts looming from Climate Change
AVON CO.- Monday September 26. As a federal court in Washington DC was preparing for oral arguments in the fossil-fuel funded lawsuit to overturn the Clean Power Plan, Coloradans working for solutions met in Avon to discuss looming impacts to Colorado’s favorite fall activities.
While the colorful Colorado aspens against snow dusted peaks framed in a blue sky provided the picture-perfect backdrop, the subject matter was serious: Climate change puts much of what we cherish the most about fall in the Rocky Mountains at risk.
From the awesome display of fall foliage and our snowpack—important not only for winter sports and the economy, but for our farms and food systems which rely on irrigation; to hunting season, wildlife health, and the multi-billion-dollar industry supported by them: global warming could mean less of what we enjoy in autumn.
Jamie Werner, Forest Programs Director with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies started the discussion by presenting on the Center’s unique forest forecasting tool that allows the public to create a visual model of what climate change means for western forests. The tool allows viewers to watch the change to western forests over the next few decades under a ‘business-as-usual’ approach and under a model where we begin to act seriously on addressing the climate crisis. The forecast tool is available here.
“The aspens this time of year are stunning, and people want to know what climate change means for this species,” Werner said. “But all of Colorado’s forests face impacts and threats from a changing climate. It is not only scenery at risk: changing forest cover can mean detrimental impacts for high elevation snow cover and Colorado’s water supply.”
The topic of water queued up Pete Kolbenschlag, from the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, an organization that connects farm and food stakeholders with climate action and conservation advocacy.
“Fall is a time of harvest,” Kolbenschlag noted as he shared some of his late peaches. “In Colorado that means irrigation, and that means reliable, predictable snowpack. Weather is variable, but growers rely on climate being more steady. Water shortages and changes in the freeze/thaw cycles can bring real harm to our agricultural operators.”
Kolbenschlag noted that oral arguments were scheduled to begin (on September 27) on a lawsuit backed by the oil and gas industry, coal companies, big utilities, and joined by 27 state attorneys general, including Cynthia Coffman in Colorado.
The lawsuit challenges the Clean Power Plan, part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan—our nation’s first federal plan to address climate pollution. Kolbenschlag also noted that India had just agreed to join China and the United States in signing the Paris Accords, a set of global commitments to act on climate.
“I am glad we came together today, to discuss these issues facing our state,” Kolbenschlag concluded. “But talk is not enough, now we need to act. The time has passed for excuses from elected leaders.”
Action was what brought David Ellenberger out from the National Wildlife Federation. Climate change is impacting habitat, altering seasonal migration and hibernation patterns, and increasing disease and pests that plague wildlife. While fruits and crops are exceptional this time of the year, they are not the only harvest that is on the mind of Coloradans. Hunting season means billions of dollars for Colorado communities, many in rural areas that have not seen the economy rebound like on the Front Range.
“If Coloradans care about wildlife, for its beauty and majesty, for its economic benefit, and because it is the ethical thing to do, then we need to send a strong message to policymakers that the time for political posturing is long expired. The Clean Power Plan and Paris Accords are important steps, but they require commitment. Leadership demands action not more delay.”
People that stopped by to enjoy the lovely afternoon and discussion included Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan. Eagle County has taken important steps to reduce its own contributions to carbon pollution and to start addressing looming impacts from climate change. Staff and visitors at Walking Mountains Science Center – where the roundtable was held – also joined the conversation.
–Photos by Ben Lehman, Lehman Images Ltd.