As numerous, detailed studies have shown, and top scientists working across many disciplines agree, agriculture is one of the most at-risk systems from the climate emergency that we are now living in, and which will only get worse in the decades to come.
How much worse, and whether fruit-growing and other agriculture in the U.S. Southwest can survive is now mostly up to us. To avert a cascade of much worse catastrophes we must act right now.
That summation is not coming just from me. It is what the series of recent international reports, thousands of pages covering over ten thousand peer-reviewed studies and other data have all concluded.
Which makes it unfortunate to read a front-page article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on the damage extreme weather in the fall of 2020 caused for fruit-growers on the Western Slope without any mention of climate change.
Fruit-growers still dealing with impacts of fall ’20 freeze
Overnight temperatures this week appear so far to have had minimal impacts on fruit trees in the Grand Valley as they begin blooming, but growers are continuing to deal with lingering and significant effects of damage to trees and grapevines from a freak October 2020 freeze.
…The damage occurred due to a deep freeze that suddenly hit in late October of that year, with temperatures locally falling to as low as single digits, after what had been a mild fall. Many trees and grapevines hadn’t yet hardened off for winter, leaving them vulnerable to freeze damage.
After some weird all-night, poorly-done performance art–which consisted of words and sometimes sentences strung together with bored partisans as background props, fidgeting on their phones: the Build Back Better Act finally passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday morning.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had lots and lots of words between items of actual business on the House Floor before final passage of the Build Back Better Act, which now heads to the U.S. Senate.
This bold and ambitious legislation is a cornerstone of President Biden’s domestic agenda, and a real boon for rural Colorado.
Fortunately the Western Slope can count on some great Colorado leadership in the U.S House of Representatives, even if it’s not our own cartoonishTwitter Troll of dubious character who couldn’t be bothered to do something useful for her district.
Luckily Representative Neguse who also represents parts of western Colorado, and the other non-Trump Party members of Colorado’s delegation, did support this bill and worked hard to include provisions that will benefit our communities.
So now it is up to our Senators — Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper — to help move this through the Senate. We need them to keep standing up for rural Colorado by securing this investment in its future.
I write as someone who has spent all my years in Colorado working to organize and create change on the Western Slope, generally in rural communities and small towns. The Build Back Better Act can be a game-changer for our region, an area that has lagged behind our urban counterparts in infrastructure, community services, and income for decades.
The Build Back Better Act can help restore the health of our lands and waters, create jobs, and build for a more sustainable and propserous future. This Act would be a real downpayment on the work needed to conserve our pubic lands, benefit wildlife, and make a positive climate impact.
Our public lands have been mined and fracked for resources that have helped cities thrive, and the water that would flow in our rivers here has also found its way there, along with most of the wealth from the minerals and timber that have also been removed.
But rural places are not alone in this way. Other disproportionately affected, under-funded and front-line communities will also see an infusion of needed investments when the Senate passes Build Back Better. That’s why I support it being fully funded and sent to President Biden.
Build Back Better will invest in places and communities where such resources are both badly needed and can be highly impactful. This is the type of investment that tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate subsidies will never provide, the kind that strengthen the foundations built up from the bottom, not the kind that only promises that crumbs may one day tumble down from above.
For western Colorado the Build Back Better bill–now heading to the U.S. Senate–and the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will have a real impact on the ground–in “red” and “blue” counties alike, for conservatives and liberals, for farmers and students, in valley and mountain towns, for workers and children and families.
Social license means being open and honest, transparent about plans and about impacts. It also sometimes means accepting “No” as an answer. And social license certainly means more than an oil and gas company taking its public regulating agency on an exclusive closed-to-the-public tour as has been reportedrecently happened in western Colorado.
One operator that led such a closed-to-the-public tour with our public agency holds leases and drilling permits in the North Fork headwaters area on and around the Gunnison and Grand Mesa National Forests, in the general vicinity of McClure Pass.
And this company, which blocked the public as it hosted its public regulating agency, already has a history in the North Fork and around Paonia, where the agency also held a recent “listening session” after this exclusive tour, and to which the public was invited.
A standing-room-only crowd turned out in Paonia to provide feedback and air concerns with the COGCC, Colorado’s public agency responsible for regulating oil and gas to protect human health, public safety and the environment.
Although the majority of public comment at that meeting did not support this activity in our valley, in our water supply areas and on our public lands, a few commenters did.
And almost all those few oil and gas supporters, most of whom came from outside the valley, attested to its public benefit, in other words they gave witness to what they perceived as its “social license.” Needed energy, useful products, good-paying jobs, charitable giving. The list was familiar to anyone who has been to this sort of meeting.
But many there, myself included, can speak from specific experience and not merely in platitudes. In my own case, this same operator that hosted the agency which regulates it (apart from any public scrutiny) also leveled a frivolous and vexatious libel lawsuit against me. This company — owned by a billionaire — was bothered by a substantially true, and widely reported, Facebook comment I left and which it did not like.
The court action was widely regarded as a SLAPP – a strategic lawsuit against public participation – broadly perceived to be filed against me, in particular, as an outspoken critic of this industry and this company’s plans in the valley
If the oil and gas industry expects to be embraced as a valued community member, then it needs to start acting like one. Social license means accepting criticism, and embracing public activism. Rich and powerful industries abusing our courts, and individuals with whom they may disagree, is not a path to building community support. An industry operating from a sense of entitlement can almost by definition not be exercising from a position of social license.
Depiction of the unfortunate if Freudian analogy used by Colorado oil and gas executive to describe the industry’s community engagement strategy.
The continued burning of fossil fuels is incompatible with future habitability. The only questions we should ask should be around how quickly and how responsibly this industry can transition.
Obviously, suing members of the public in an attempt to silence critics or denying the public a venue before its own public agency funded with its own public dollars to discuss development of public minerals accessed via public lands and public roads, are not signs of social license (and a likely violation of Colorado’s open meeting law).
The bottom line is there is no social license. The oil and gas industry’s legacy and its own past and on-going actions cannot be so easily papered over with greenwashing slogans or corporate buzz-words.
The Declaration of Independence let King George know that the patriarchs of our Republic just were no longer that into him. The contract the Monarch believed was operable was declared null and void by those it excluded.
Even its postulators admit it’s a construct. But it is even more of a fiction, and a dastardly one at that, than believers hope. The idea is that we all participate in some sort of “gentleman’s agreement” (and the gender is hardly coincidental) through which we agree to certain rules and roles and a system of getting along as self-interested individuals that have to do just that.
This is not out of any Noblesseoblige but out of rational self-interest. If I am a wild-arm-swinger I can swing away, so far as my swinging does not knock you in the nose. And so forth. Otherwise we would all have bloody noses and bloody knuckles and the essential good of commerce could not commence and woe to all, in tooth and claw.
To get to the social contract, one must do that funny little dance that is philosophy, a skip or two away from where the pedestrian walks, as notably expressed by that erudite egalitarian John Rawls, summed up here in the equally accessible “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,”
“The original position is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice.”
Of course, some people are not rational – neither “fair” nor “impartial” and thus not able to sit at this table in such an exalted, yet-equitably-minded perch, in this “original position.” For some reason they are deficient, and membership, by necessity, must be limited to those only who participate in “good faith.”
Women, enslaved humans, and original inhabitants all stayed home when the Founding Fathers worked out just how this whole equality thing would work.
Who decides what is “good faith,” you might ask? But of course it must be the reasonable, fair and impartial members of the social contract. It is a self-selecting membership, and it decides the parameters of what is, and is not, allowed. Not too different, I suppose, than the clubs where Stanford philosophy students and professors like to sit around and chew the fat.
Anyhow… The social contract is fundamentally elitist. It is founded on the notion of participating individuals that must only act in “rational self-interest” even when veiled behind various devices meant to cloud that fact. And therein lies the rub, that no device can cloak, that power protects itself. There is no impartial stance, however cleverly conceived.
There is no “social contract.” And demanding that those who have been excluded even from its pretense behave according to its precepts is a fool’s errand. And a selfish fool at that. At some point those not part of the game of splitting up social goods, are going to say F— your contract, and choose to alter or abolish it.
All my life, as far back as I can remember, I was raised to not be a racist. And I am not a racist, but I am racist. I am racist because I was born a white man in America in 1964. I am racist because I am not dead, even though I spent a good deal of time in my youth – and today – poking at power, checking cops, being loud and visible. “Here I am, come challenge me.” But I am a white man and I have presumed that I have the privilege to question authority.
I was targeted, in the days my truck was covered in Grateful Dead, political, justice and peace stickers – or scrounging around with my posse after some shows – move along, move along, no you can’t come in here. And I have recently been targeted by a billionaire fracker who didn’t care for my snarky social media post (and activism). But I selected those roles. Because I was born a white man, and I have the privilege of choosing that.
“You clean up nice,” the grandmother said, after I had made quite the opposite impression the night before at the rehearsal dinner. Shaved, hair combed back, suited up I can pass as “respectable.” You see, I am a white man and the color of my skin is probably not the first impression I make. To many white folks such is often not the case with people of color, that often color is in fact the first thing we see.
Of course, I can’t speak for all people born white, or even very many. But I can speak to my own whiteness, and what I suspect and 55 years of living has confirmed, that most of us know about ourselves, as white folk, if we take a few minutes to look inside. What we have heard, what we have “learned,” what programming follows us around despite our stated, and best, intentions.
So I am not a racist, but I am racist. I carry this inside of me as part of White America. I had a cop pull his gun on me once, and it was startling. But I never feared he would shoot me dead. I just got back in my car and made sure my hands were on the wheel. Then I sat there and no one smashed my windows or tased me for it.
Now I sit here. And I want to have this talk. I want White America to look inside itself and be honest about what it finds. Like most dysfunction, our racist programming thrives when ignored or denied. But once we begin to watch for it and see it, to talk about it, to watch it bubble up, to see our privilege, to stop that tape in our head and play a different one, then we can begin to create a space to heal.
I think this is how we can not be a racist: by starting to see how we are racist.
The Trump administration is moving to turn Colorado’s North Park — headwaters to the Platte — into an oil and gas field.
COVID-19 is focusing our priorities on what’s important now, and what we need for the future. Many are asking about where we are going and about how we need to rebuild: To be better prepared, to be more resilient, to build a society that can endure.
But the course the Trump administration is pursuing is anything but. Recklessly handing over hundreds of thousands of acres of our public lands to oil and gas leases, for instance, is bad for America now and it’s bad for our future. It’s taking from taxpayers today and does little to build prosperity for tomorrow.
Oil and gas was already hurting and in severe financial duress before the coronavirus hit. If public funds are to be spent, we should focus on making workers whole and better prepared for what’s next, not to rescue a failing industry. And certainly we must not bail out oil and gas at the expense of our core assets–like our public lands, our wildlife, our clean water, and our climate.
Leasing public lands–in places like the North Fork Valley, or the Rio Grande National Forest, or in North Park–to oil and gas companies when the commodity is next to worthless is basically giving away our prized natural capital at below-fire sale prices. It’s a rip-off for taxpayers of the highest order.
Oil and gas drilling, fracking, development and production is a disruptive activity. All too often, once the mineral wealth has been stripped away, a hazardous mess is left behind for the public to clean up.
We don’t know how much–or how little–fossil fuel in the ground will be worth as a commodity down the road. Maybe it will pencil out better for industry after all this passes, although a lot of analysts think the decline is structural and long-term, and the climate imperative demands those fossil fuels mostly stay put. In any case, we can be sure the public lands themselves and the ecological services they perform will remain deeply treasured by Coloradans for decades to come, and ever more critical to our well-being: but only if left intact. Expanding oil and gas leasing and development now is just foolhardy.
Colorado’s public lands provide vital functions and essential services, such as cleaning our air and acting as carbon sinks, safeguarding genetic reservoirs in a time of biodiversity collapse and wildlife habitat in a time of species decline, as water source areas in a drying West, and as hunting and recreation lands with demand rising.
The public value of these functions and services will only increase. We should not trade the private gain that might be gotten from a glutted, devalued, risky commodity of dubious benefit, for an increasingly scarce, and vital, portfolio of public wealth that we know we need.
Coronavirus is a reset. We should take stock of what is important, what we want to bring forward. It’s a chance to not only focus on, but to take a reckoning of, our priorities. What will a sustainable economic and ecological future look like? It should not be a time to simply reboot the status quo, nor to simply award the future to whomever has the richest lobbyists.
The Jumbo Mountain area – a favorite hiking and biking spot at the edge of Paonia – would be opened to oil and gas leasing under the Trump-BLM plan.
It’s newly revised Uncompahgre Field Office Resource Management Plan is expected to be put in force any day now. The Trump plan would throw open Bureau of Land Management lands – more than one-half a million acres of public lands from Telluride to the Utah line, Montrose and Delta and up into the North Fork Valley – to a massive expansion of fossil fuel fracking and mining.
There is obvious irony. BLM just moved its ‘national headquarters’ to Grand Junction to be closer to the western communities near where much of the nation’s public lands are located.
“I commend the Department of Interior for relocating the Agency closer to the people it serves and the public lands it manages. Government is best when it is closer and more accountable to the American people, and relocating the directorate of the BLM to Western Colorado will ensure our public lands are protected for many future generations to enjoy.” U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R – Colorado)
Sen. Cory Gardner talks to media, an increasingly rare occurrence. In the North Fork farmers and ranchers concerned about expanding oil and gas development in their water supplies cannot be certain Colorado’s junior senator has their back.
Warming Stripes for Colorado shows annual average temperatures for Colorado from 1895-2018 using data from NOAA, this and more great graphs can be found at www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/visualisation-resources/
But none of that carpet-bombing ad dominance spilling across our screens matters, or it shouldn’t, when news, the reality in the oil and gas fields, is more like this (from industry-oriented blog OilPrice.com):
Emissions Soar As Permian Flaring Frenzy Breaks New Records
The flaring and venting of natural gas in the U.S. continue to soar, reaching new record highs in recent months.
The volume of gas that was burned or simply released into the atmosphere by oil and gas drillers reached 1.28 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2018, according to the EIA, up from 0.772 Bcf/d in 2017.
The practice is a disaster on many levels. It is wasteful, it worsens air quality and it exacerbates climate change. Venting gas is much worse than burning it since it releases methane into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas.
The New York Times documented several “super emitters” in the Permian, using infrared cameras to visually capture the epidemic. The NYT even recorded an oil worker walking into an invisible plume of leaking methane.
But shale drillers continue the practice and regulators have shown little interest in regulating them.
OK Boomer, and Gen X listen up too: Young people aren’t having any of the “it’s too hard!” whining. In this “season of gratitude” perhaps we should also consider a “day of mourning,” and not only for the theft and transgression, the original sins, at the root of our nation, but for the future we are driving it toward as well.
Adults are cooking up the planet. And what we are serving our kids, is something they’re not thankful for.
Consider the climate news of the last week or so. This week NOAA ranked 2019 as “increasingly likely” to be the second- or third-hottest year on record.
A couple of weeks ago a study came out showing that the reporting on climate science has actually been a bit pollyannish, and that the worse-case scenarios once considered likely outliers are lining up as our new reality.
Meanwhile, facing weakening from market competition, as renewables become cheaper and storage improves–not to even mention the climate crisis–fracked gas corporations understand their product’s viability as a power source is also in decline. And so, to recall a classic scene every Boomer knows well, “Plastics.” Yes, the solution to pollution apparently is more pollution.
Adults are not only robbing kids in their future, but are impacting their childhood today as well. Extreme weather, heat waves, drought, and fear for the future are all detrimental to our children. But are “grown-ups” paying attention?
But there is a check on this abuse of power, of course, and in Colorado its face is Cory Gardner.
Or it would be: if Sen. Gardner was listening to the moral imperatives of the moment and the growing anger from the near-future.
Instead, Sen. Gardner has voted in lock-step with corrupt and career politicians like Mitch McConnell, and per the orders of Donald Trump. Not for Colorado, not for the climate, and not for our future.
Global climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has an unique ability to trigger Boomer men. It’s difficult when someone with such moral clarity sums you up so harshly.
We can run, but we can’t hide. And that includes from our kids, and what they are telling us. That we should not dismiss them as naive or manipulated. And that they are not backing down. The failure of older generations does not impress them, and they are not about to let our impotence stop their moment.
The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are not pleased. Young people are not just demanding action. They are taking it.
All they are asking older generations: The past or the future – Which side are we on?
Boomer Bonus: If you won’t listen to the kids, maybe Jer can help.
Disclaimer: Pete Kolbenschlag considers himself a confused Gen Xer born in the last moments of the Baby Boom. He admits to a fondness for Dustin Hoffman movies, The Grateful Dead, 8 Tracks, and accountable government.
For anyone paying attention to the Swamp Administration now ensconced in the U.S. Department of Interior, that the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association–the industry trade group in western Colorado–would be shacking up with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, one of its primary regulators, is probably not too surprising.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management administers over 8 million acres of cherished public lands in Colorado.
But this is just the latest smudge on what looks overall to be a dirty deal – the evisceration of a major public lands agency to facilitate more fracking, mining, and special interest access on our shared estate and America’s Commons.
The first bad mark on the “relocation” of BLM HQ to Grand Junction (aka “the bait”) was that it wasn’t that. Rather it was to be the relocation not of hundreds of employees like our junior senator hinted at—and that other eager pols nodded along to in agreement—but of barely more than two dozen employees “Editorial: BLM announced move to Grand Junction feels like a letdown” (aka “the switch”).
And then the reporting let on that, despite the rhetoric, it was not really about moving the decisions “closer to the land” either. Over 95% of BLM employees are already “in the field,” in the states with pubic lands, and in the field offices scattered across rural counties all around the western states. Consider this article by Bloomberg Environment: “Land Bureau Power Stays in Washington as Headquarters Moves West” that reports:
A review team is consolidating major Bureau of Land Management decision-making at Interior headquarters in Washington at a time when department officials are saying public lands decisions should be made in the West, according to former BLM officials.
Interior says it is moving BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., beginning in mid-September so that officials making decisions about federal lands, oil, gas, and coal can be close to the people and places those decisions affect.
But the opposite is happening, said a former high-level BLM official who left the agency during the Trump administration and spoke on condition of anonymity.
All indications suggest that the decision to scatter BLM across the west and locate its nominal HQ in Grand Junction is all about consolidating power in the bowels of backrooms, and in corporate boardrooms, and moving it far away from public oversight.
Instead, with top-down decisions being made in DC, the relocated BLM is likely more akin to a Roman governor in some occupied land – There to bring the Emperor’s decree to the locals.
In Colorado the examples also abound. In western Colorado, after a decade of working closely with local communities and a variety of stakeholders, the Trump BLM invented an entirely new proposal for public lands, throwing open Colorado’s North Fork Valley and nearly a million more acres besides, to expanded fracking, mining, and other harmful management. And in eastern Colorado, the draft land use plan there is likewise a far cry from what the agency had been working with local communities toward for years.
Despite the lure of an economic boost from the BLM’s partial-relocation, however diminished from the promises, and contrary to the pledges of a “government closer to the people,” what is and should have always been obvious is that one cannot separate the policy being implemented from the inimical intent behind it. And that is very true with the BLM’s fractional dislocation to the west and Grand Junction.
High in the San Juan Mountains and rising from the porous geology of the Grand Mesa, the headwaters to the Gunnison River – the second largest tributary in the Colorado River system – are among the areas in our nation most threatened from climate change.
The Gunnison River Basin is among the most threatened in the nation from climate change, with major portions of its watershed among the nation’s most-impacted from warming.
The Gunnison Basin, the land drained by the river and its tributaries, stretches from the northern slopes of the San Juan Mountains, from the Sawatch and Elk mountains just west of the Continental Divide, from the West Elks and Grand Mesa, to the eastern flanks of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
The Gunnison and its tributaries start at some of the highest elevations in the U.S. and it joins the muddy Colorado River in the desert at the edge of canyon country in Grand Junction – the confluence being that city’s namesake.
It’s a storied river, full of promise and misery, luck and misfortune, chance connections and betrayals. It’s history, and prehistory, is rich, including the Ute Tribes that lived and farmed there for centuries, with Spanish priests and explorers searching for wealth and a route to connect New Spain with missions on the coast. The region is full of stories, French-Canadian fur trappers, mountain men, guides, and miners. Finally, it is the story of the settlers who turned the valley lands to agriculture. Some of Colorado’s most productive farm and ranches are watered by the Gunnison, square in climate change’s cross-hairs.
Crawford, Colo sits in Delta County on the Montrose County line, and near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Delta and Montrose counties are both among seventy-one U.S. counties being most impacted by warming.
Now a new county-by-county look from the Washington Post shows just how threatened the Gunnison Basin is from the climate crisis.
The August 13 report, “2°C: Beyond the Limit: Extreme climate change has arrived in America,” identifies seventy-one U.S. counties that have already hit the “two degree” threshold of warming.
But global warming does not heat the world evenly.
A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.
…Seventy-one [U.S.] counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.
This 2°C threshold is broadly identified as the too-far-gone global benchmark to avoid even more catastrophic climate disruption. Eight of the seventy-one counties on the Washington Post list are in Colorado.
And seven of those eight are on the Western Slope—which is to say that 10% of U.S. counties that have already crossed the threshold—are in the headwaters to much of the United States. And five counties on that list comprise major portions of the Gunnison River Basin, together representing seven percent of all the nation’s seventy-one identified climate critical counties. The climate crisis is real – and it is already here in Colorado.
No one can say that Senator Cory Gardner isn’t showing up in western Colorado. In fact, reporting is that he’ll be there today, standing side-by-side with the Trump administration’s #2 (excluding princelings, nepotistic anointments, and miscellaneous favorites and family, of course).
And all a curious Coloradan need to do to see our senator up close and in-person, apparently, is jet off to Aspen and throw down $35,000.
Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner is a reliable vote for the Trump administration’ anti-environment, anti-climate agenda. Now VP Pence is jetting out to Aspen for a $35,000 per couple fundraiser to boost the junior senator’s flagging campaign.
Sen. Gardner is happy to arrive with his top pick to lead our nation in this critical time, Donald J. Trump. Today our senator, who has not held a legitimate in-person town hall in over a year, will be entertaining the jet-setting and billionaire class in a $35,000/couple event high in the entitled enclaves of Aspen, Colorado.
So, its understandable that Coloradans–who overwhelming support climate action–are underwhelmed by our junior senator’s leadership on this issue.
Rather than celebrating with the uber-wealthy on behalf of the Trump administration’s pro-pollution agenda, Sen. Gardner should use his trip to the West Slope to educate himself about the climate crisis and what local communities are doing to address it.
Instead Sen. Gardner is standing lockstep with an administration to attack science, slash pollution controls, prop up fossil-fuels, and abandon climate leadership. And while that might go over big with the jet-setting billionaire class that Gardner is appealing to with his Trump-assisted Aspen fundraiser, it doesn’t fit with the communities of the Roaring Fork Valley and is increasingly out-of-step with much of western Colorado.
Consider the Roaring Fork’s power provider, Holy Cross Energy, which is “leading the responsible transition to a clean energy future.” Or the Climate Action Plan prepared by Pitkin County, which makes real commitments – unlike anything put forward by the majority party in the United States Senate – and does more than hold hearings to admit science is real, or make vague milquetoast statements that maybe doing something some time might perhaps makes some sense, as long as it doesn’t upset the donors’ business models.
Although President Trump has never been popular in Colorado, and has only become less so during the course of his administration, Sen. Gardner was an early endorser of his re-election. This seems likely to remain the case, even facing a presidential campaign likely waged with the most base and under-handed tactics, and even as Trump’s disastrous foreign policy and environment destruction continues unchecked by a Vichy GOP in the U.S. Senate.
So while you’re watching your ice cream melt, and reading about eggs cooking on side-walks, give a thought to Sen. Gardner with Team Trump, pretending to keep their cool, though they know the heat is on.
Colorado’ junior senator has a problem in his run for re-election: Donald J Trump. And on every issue which Trump is wrong, Sen. Gardner’s fingerprints can be found on the mess left in the stable genius’ wake.
“I believe in climate change. I believe in the consensus within the scientific community. I believe humans are contributing to climate change, and I believe we have work to do together to solve it.” -Senator Cory Gardner, May 2019
The Advice and Consent function is one of the U.S. Senate’s primary oversight tools, an authority granted under Article II in the U.S. Constitution denoting it specifically as a check on the President’s appointment powers.
Yet every swamp creature put forth by the White House has been rubber-stamped by Cory Gardner — from scandal-ridden run-out-of-town hits-of-yore, like Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke; to the new or still-standing — like the fossil fuel lawyers-lobbyists duo David Bernhardt and Andrew Wheeler, taking care of the nation’s lands, water, and air.
And by ‘taking care of’ I mean that in the Henry II sense, as in removing an impediment. Let’s consider Sonny Purdue, one of the remaining originals not yet been rode out on a rail, who is Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture. Sonny doesn’t believe in science, and it turns out he isn’t ashamed of saying so.
Climate change poses an extreme risk to agriculture. That risk is particularly acute in the American Southwest – and across the Plains.
In other words, climate chaos is likely to impact Colorado farmers and ranchers hard. If Secretary Purdue and his supporters, like Senator Gardner, don’t believe that statement, consider what our own federal scientists are saying. Including those at the USDA.
But rather than listening to its own scientist, under Gardner’s pick Purdue’s “leadership” his department has sought to squelch that science instead, as the Observerreports:
According to POLITICO, the Trump administration has refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies on climate change, which were conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This slight-of-hand denial trick sidesteps a long-standing White House practice of announcing the findings of the department’s respected in-house scientists.
Warmer winters lead to early blooms which lead to frozen blossoms and loss of fruit – a growing risk for Colorado’s orchardists in a world of climate change. The USDA–with Cory Gardner’s apparent approval–is ignoring the science that could help Colorado farmers and ranchers.
Secretary Sonny, as his Twitter handle calls him, has chosen to disregard his department’s own experts and thereby ignore a huge threat to American agriculture and rural communities.
Such abandonment of public mission has become sadly typical for the Trump administration. Some USDA staff were so upset that their work was being intentionally subverted, that they turned their back on Secretary Purdue when he spoke at a recent “all hands” employee meeting. But the blame lies squarely at the feet of Senators like Cory Gardner who have approved these men for such critical roles.
So while our junior senator did recently chair a subcommittee meeting on “climate science research” let us not be too quick to applaud. With politicians it is always wise to watch what they do, and less what they say. After five years, the relentless questions may have finally prompted Sen. Gardner to acknowledge that climate change is real. But that’s not leadership. Few of his actions, where it counts, demonstrates any real commitment.
Meanwhile the very Americans that Republicans claim to care for the most — rural communities out here in ‘fly over country’ — are among those most at risk from the climate crisis. But our junior senator has surrendered to Trump and the pressures of Beltway funding and Republican politics. That’s not going to work back here in Colorado.
(Molecules of freedom! – Promoted by Colorado Pols)
In a bizarre literary crime, an official Department of Energy news release is touting exports of liquefied fracked gas (LNG) as “molecules of freedom.”
The U.S. Ministry of Truth is peddling long-term fossil fuel contracts as “freedom.”
This super-cooled fossil fuel is one of several last ditch hopes for an over-leveraged fracked gas industry deep in over-supply, debt, and declining prices.
Of course, pushing our petroleum products to oversea users, shipping “Freedom Gas” to Asia and Europe, would not happen apart from the rest of the energy market, or be exempt from climate reality. Which is to say, Freedom Gas isn’t free.
Shipping fracked LNG to foreign markets will likely raise the cost for U.S. consumers. Back when markets mattered to conservatives, this is when they might remind us that such is just “Economics 101.”
OK, it sort of is, but its not yet too late. Maybe.
The Earth’s atmosphere is a thin blue line.
Yes, it’s been almost 50 years since the “first Earth Day.” Back then fossil fuel companies were just beginning to uncover troubling data on what their products were doing to the planet, and likely to do over the coming century.
These companies put their heads together and decided to do what they could… So now, fifty years later, some may even be sponsoring an Earth Day event near you!
In any case, cliche or not. Now is the time to Act on Climate. If 2018 was the Year of Get-It-Togetherwarnings, 2019 is becoming the Year-of-(Tepid)-Action.
Action, of course, is good — So we should applaud efforts in the state house and in Congress to take steps toward addressing our carbon pollution and acting to limit and reduce it. Some argue that it is not enough, that it is too little. Window dressing. Rearranging deck chairs.
Much of the Colorado media that cover oil and gas issues are busy following the state legislature, providing details of the drama and blow-by-blow of the SB 181 debate, and dutifully reporting out the industry hyperbole in between the paid industry ads.
And public attention is due, SB181: the Public Health and Safety oil and gas reform bill, passed out of the House last night, and now is headed back to the Senate. A little reinforcement/pressure on legislators might help as industry spills a slick of lobbyists into the state capitol to thwart any efforts to strengthen local oversight of their profit-making.
Make sure your representative and senator know you support SB181. Call them now, then come back.
David Bernhardt was among those that made an appearance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
OK, now let’s move from state matters to talk about our federal ‘public estate’—and what Trump’s vision for “energy dominance” is doing to our lands, wildlife, and climate there.
Most of Americans’ publicly-owned minerals are administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, under the direction of acting Secretary David Bernhardt. Readers no doubt recall Trump’s first Interior Secretary, the show-horse Ryan Zinke, who was quickly ridden out of town in a stink of scandal on the horse he rode in on, so to speak. By all indications Bernhardt is the work-horse of the duo: less flash, more bang.
Bernhardt is currently undergoing a confirmation hearing to be Zinke’s replacement, appearing yesterday before U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-K St.) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) committee. Many observers think Bernhardt, as Deputy under Zinke and an experienced lawyer-lobbyist, was already running the operation. The Washington Postreports:
Bernhardt has wielded influence over the department’s most important agencies. Within months of becoming Zinke’s deputy, Bernhardt played a role in decisions to increase national park fees, roll back endangered species protections enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service, open massive amounts of public lands to more drilling, and weaken safety rules for ocean oil production platforms.
While the federal government was recently shut down over one of Donald J. Trump’s tantrums, it was Bernhardt who made sure that servicing the oil and gas industry continued apace, and at an even faster rate than previously reported.
Washington (CNN)The recent government shutdown cost the US economy billions of dollars, but one industry largely dodged its worst effects — the industry previously represented by the Interior Department’s acting secretary David Bernhardt.
In contrast to other shutdowns in recent decades, the department’s Bureau of Land Management continued to process applications from oil and gas companies to drill on public land as other offices remained closed, which environmentalists and some former BLM employees argue reveals a bias that favors the energy industry.
During the 35-day government shutdown, the BLM approved 267 onshore drilling permits and 16 leases applied for by oil and gas companies, the agency said, a number far greater than previously known. Two of Bernhardt’s former clients were among the range of companies that submitted the approved applications.
Oil and gas leasing of important wildlife lands, public water supplies, favorite hunting grounds, family camping spots, popular hiking trails, and so forth, for drilling and fracking raises concerns. It turns out the “public” makes public lands management complicated. Under the Trump-Bernhardt regime the ‘solution’ to that problem looks to be less public.
The Greeley Tribune runs a regular column entitled the Weld County Oil and Gas Spill Report that provides a handy break-down of the spills and other “releases” reported in Colorado’s most drilled, most fracked county. A pretty typical spill summary might read:
KERR MCGEE OIL & GAS ONSHORE LP, reported March 6 a tank battery spill west of Platteville, about 1,250 feet west of Buck Rake Boulevard and Rodgers Circuit. Less than five barrels of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Waters of the state were impacted. The separator cabinet at the production facility developed a leak. A groundwater sample from 8 feet below ground surface indicated benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene concentrations above COGCC standards. -Greely Tribune: Weld County oil and gas spill report for March 17
It is a useful feature, and worth checking regularly. But it didn’t capture what’s going on a few counties west, up in Jackson County. Apparently for that its up to individuals to check the state’s databases, since most counties and communities–even those being actively drilled–are not served by such diligent reporting.
Of course media following the oil and gas beat in Colorado have been busy covering SB 181–the pubic health and safety/oil and gas reform bill. Which means covering the Capitol circus–Democratic leader using machines to a read bill, a Republican senator talk of secession. But meanwhile the wildcatters and frackers, the big boys and the ‘moms and pops’ are still busy.
Even if drilling is down a bit, along with the price of fracked gas glutted at the hub. Leasing and permitting still continues apace–locking up the public’s lands in speculative chains, raising uncertainty in neighborhoods and for nearby towns and ranchers–all without much say by local jurisdictions about when, how, and where such activity should occur.
Which is to say that business still gets done–even if some workers get a paid day off to spill into the capitol instead. Consider North Park, for instance. There an Oklahoma company is getting called out by the state oil and gas commission, the “COGCC,” for the number of “reportable” incidents–also called “spills and releases”–in its operations there.
When 2018 started, few expected great things – although it is doubtful anyone saw how far things would go, ending in complete political break-down – an infantile President being met with an infantile House unable to even perform the most basic duties of governance. Good riddance. Let’s finish the clean up in 2019 – 2020.
As the old year gets tired and we bid it goodbye, few will rank the rank political dysfunction that has gripped our nation a highlight of the year now past. As cities combust and flood and farms go fallow, there was a time–if we are to believe the history–when this nation could come together to solve problems.
So with new leadership coming in, and the pitch of urgency rising, perhaps this year will be a year we move forward on addressing climate change. With the Colorado State Legislature in Democratic control, perhaps we can take some real and bold steps toward meeting soon-to-be-Governor Polis’ clean energy ambitions. Now we can finally make clear, perhaps, to the oil and gas companies spilling their oily cash all over our body politic that of course public health and safety and a sustainable future are the priority, and they always will be from here on out.
Maybe with some leadership we can turn to building for our future, not wasting energy fighting ill-conceived fossil fuel projects, but creating a more resilient economy. Maybe we can find the maturity to face the reality that an increasing demand on the dwindling resource that makes all this possible: water – means we need to get our act together.
At the federal level, despite a GOP regime that has lost all mooring to fact or reality, Colorado’s House Delegation has also shifted toward climate action, with the election of Jason Crow and Joe Neguse. Rep.-Elect Neguse has made climate action central to his agenda in the 116th Congress.
So, while 2018 may be notable for its stark climate warnings coming right as the wheels of government seem to be coming off – the election outcome, and with new state leadership, and new Members in Congress being seated, our work here will be crucial in 2019.
2018 – The Year Climate Change Would Not Be Ignored
2018 was a notable year in regards to climate change. For one, a reporter at Colorado’s new news venture The Sun (also 2018) got our junior senator to comment on the record. Coming across a bit annoyed–perhaps–by the fact that no one seems to remember he already commented on climate change, as recently as 2014.
“I’ve said it before — I said it in 2014 — there’s no doubt pollution contributes to climate change,” the Colorado Republican told The Colorado Sun last week. “Climate change is real. I’ve been on the record saying that.”
That was in response to a question about Sen. Gardner receiving an award from the American Geophysical Union and blow-back he was getting for his votes on several environmental and climate-related matters, in regard to it.
It’s still a relevant question for 2018, of course, because it is still an issue, and notable now due in part to several high-profile reports in the news and released this year. These include an international report, and one issued through thirteen federal agencies–over which Sen. Gardner has oversight. At least on paper (to whit: the U.S. Constitution, Article I).
The annual United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference COP 24 wrapped up earlier this month with the United States once again isolated among a small handful of rogue nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, resisting climate action.
That body, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released its Special Report on climate change in October 2018. This report was notable for the urgency it communicated. The short of it was that the world’s preeminent climate scientists give us just over a decade to transform our energy and power systems, and to take all other possible action to limit and reduce carbon pollution.
More recently, the 4th Annual National Climate Assessment, published by 13 federal agencies looked specifically at the United States. Like the international Special Report, the National Climate Assessment found need for urgent action, and forecasts dire impacts to the U.S. made worse by lack of it.
And worse than inaction, is undoing the small steps that have been taken. In 2017 Sen. Gardner voted against both his constituents and a majority of the U.S. Senate to support polluters on public lands – when Congress tried (and failed) to gut methane waste rules for oil and gas development on public lands. Then Sen. Gardner remained silent this year, when Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved himself to roll back the pollution rules that Sen. Gardner and Congress were unable to undo.
That may not be a surprise as Sen. Gardner not only voted against the waste prevention rule but to confirm Sec. Zinke, along with a skulk of foxes to guard the public’s chickens, from Zinke and David Bernhardt at Interior to Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler at EPA.
No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up. -Lily Tomlin
So far the U.S. administration and Congress have done very little to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of American resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
True that. And in the vein of “gallows humor,” I suppose it’s also hard to keep up with the horror show that our federal administration has become.
Overlooking the dismemberment of its residents by wealthy customers, caging children, fanning flames of hate that are literally murdering Americans, scapegoating, and weaponizing the U.S military as a political tool to rile up some midterm votes. No dime-store scare-novel could depict a more frightening nightmare than that which has befallen our nation.
So, Happy Halloween! Welcome to the Climate Dystopia
Its hard to keep up, and the horrors of the last week cannot be diminished. Still, this week we can all anticipate—Who knows what?—Almost certainly, some new gross display or executive malfunction.
The IPCC report concludes that a world with 2°C of global warming will lead to more heat-related deaths, smaller crop yields, worse extreme weather events, slower economic growth, more people in poverty, and increase the population facing water stress by up to 50% compared to a 1.5°C world.
Like most of the scifi you may have read in the genre, this looming dystopia is of our making. And its consequences are likely severe.
“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.
But unlike most of the novels you might have seen, however, this horror-show future is where we are heading toward right now. If we stay the course this is where we arrive. Or so the best minds studying this sort of thing say. Oh, and it’s a short ride until we get there.
We’re already seeing the changes. Consider weird and disruptive weather patterns being fueled by human-driven climate change. While the details of the contribution to extreme events that climate change has is still a matter of much study and debate, that some effects can be attributed is widely accepted by climate scientists.
Fanciful Dreams to sell Piceance fracked gas to Asian market is not a Western Slope economic development strategy
Jared Polis and Walker Stapelton debate in the “Rural Issues Debate” at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Colorado’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton was in Grand Junction last night debating Democrat Jared Polis.
Stapleton was eager to share his idea for economic development across Colorado’s broad Western Slope: Let a Canadian company build a pipeline in Oregon to ship mostly Canadian fracked gas to Asian markets, that may (or may not) exist someday. Really, Walker believes this so much he repeated it “several times” according to theGrand Junction Daily Sentinel.
The project of Walker’s dreams is the Jordan Cove Energy Project, an LNG export scheme and new pipeline in Oregon that is being pushed by Canadian fracked gas giant and pipeline company Pembina. By the latest account it might include the opportunity to ship a small fraction of fracked gas from the Rocky Mountains and western Colorado.
These prospects have the drillers and their stable of faithful politicians giddy with sugar-plums of extracted-wealth dancing in their heads. A “Boom” as it were, already hatched and tallied into promises of bounty.
Efforts to divide up the waters of the Colorado River between states began in the early 20th century.
Talk was heard this summer in water circles, of a scary scenario coming to pass should the rivers keep shrinking: A call under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which parcels up the Colorado River (and its tributaries) among seven thirsty states, and divides its flows between “upper” and “lower” basins. A Compact Call would require the delivery, by any means necessary, of 7.5 million acre-feet from the Upper Basin to Lower Basin States. As Luke Runyon reports:
The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado River is enough to make some water managers in the West break into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening — its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest battling over scarce water supplies.
Bureau of Reclamation chief Floyd Dominy at Hoover Dam in 1963.
It was a frenzy of dam-building under BuRec’s glory days, chronicled by Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, that put much of the infrastructure in place to regulate the flows of the Colorado and its tributaries across the region in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s — and to be able to mange to meet the Compact.
Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir
Part of the upper Colorado River Basin Storage Project, the Aspinall Unit is a series of high reservoirs in western Colorado. The uppermost is the most familiar, and Colorado’s largest water body Blue Mesa Reservoir. This set of dams and reservoirs serves the purpose to be able to guarantee the Upper Basin can provide the necessary flow to meet the Compact agreement to the Lower Basin.
Together, Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam, and Crystal Dam developed the water storage and hydroelectric power generating potential along a 40-mile section of the Gunnison River while also regulating the flow of the river and in turn, assisting in the regulation the Colorado River.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, in a happier time.
And despite the excitement that high elevation storage still elicits in some water buffaloes, as well as with politicians who want to propose things that sound like solutions, more dams and bigger pools won’t necessarily do it.
In a future marked by climate change, more storage won’t help that much. Currently Blue Mesa Reservoir levels are at about 39% capacity, and local lore says this part of the state has not seen a drought this deep in over eighty-five years.
The bottom-line is we need to prepare for a future with less water, and warmer temperatures. The low levels and high temperatures in our state’s largest water body is not only frightening for what it portends of these changes we have wrought already in our climate, now coming due. The warming is also leading to another, direct and immediate hazard: Blooms of toxic algae, as reported by the Denver Post.
The National Park Service has found toxic algae in a section of Blue Mesa Reservoir, near Gunnison, and is asking people to exercise caution when using the reservoir.
The park service said it has sampled, analyzed and determined the presence of cyanotoxins in the Iola Basin section of the Blue Mesa. Other areas of the reservoir may contain toxins as well, according to a news release.
…People or animals exposed to the Blue Mesa water and exhibit nausea, vomiting, digestive distress, breathing problems, seizure or unexplained illness should contact a medical professional, the park service said. Testing is ongoing at the reservoir.
In fact, algal blooms are yet another indicator of climate change, and the excessively hot days of 2018 has led to the Summer of Algal Bloom – all across the country – and which are worsening, right on cue, as the globe warms.
Hurricane Florence gathering in the Atlantic, several days before landfall near Wilmington, NC.
Its still too early to tell how damaging Hurricane Florence is going to be, and those aiding in the rescue under way and the recovery to come deserve our, and the government’s, full support.
But there is one thing we can almost certainly be sure of. Whether the storm lives up to its worst fears, or not, science-deniers will point to it to make fun of climate change.
“Oh,” they will say in the first case, “if it’s dry—blame climate change, if it rains—blame climate change. Well, the climate changes all the time!” Or they will say, in the second case, “Oh, see! No ‘super-storm’ ergo no climate change! Just more eco-hysteria!”
The usual brigade of followers and amplifiers will tweet and blog and push out whichever false narrative fits the ideology, and then we’ll get back to business as usual: Gutting the Clean Power Plan, slashing methane pollution regulations that protect taxpayers and the environment, walking away from the world, rolling back the clean car rules. The list of bad things done, and climate wrongs committed by this administration is noteworthy.
However you graph it, the trends are clear. Climate change is real.
For no string of extreme weather events, no list of new records replacing the last new records that replaced the ones before, no data of climbing temperatures and escalating droughts, can penetrate the bubble insulated by the love of cold hard cash. Their gain is your loss, of course. Remember, you can’t spell “trickle down” without “trick.”
By ending the methane rule Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department admits taxpayers stand to lose more than $1 billion in wasted resources. Replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Dirty Power Scam could cost 1,400 American lives every year. And no matter that the methane waste rule has support from across the nation, and in Colorado. Earlier this year, a Colorado College poll found that 7-in-10 western voters support methane waste requirements for federal public lands, including most Republicans in all states surveyed.
In May 2017, a bipartisan group of Senators rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal the BLM methane rule. For this we can thank the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contacted Congress, and who resisted efforts to sell America out to oil and gas lobbyists. But we can’t thank Cory Gardner, Colorado’s junior senator, who voted against taxpayers and our climate, and voted to repeal the methane waste rule.
The horrific and deadly wildfires that have swept through Greece are just one set of data points causing scientists around the world to sound the alarm, that human-driven climate change is “supercharging a hot and dangerous summer,” as the Washington Post reports:
In the town of Sodankyla, Finland, the thermometer on July 17 registered a record-breaking 90 degrees, a remarkable figure given that Sodankyla is 59 miles north of the Arctic Circle…
…Japan recorded its highest temperature in history, 106 degrees, in a heat wave that killed 65 people in a week and hospitalized 22,000, shortly after catastrophic flooding killed 200. …Ouargla, Algeria, hit 124 degrees on July 5, a likely record for the continent of Africa. And the 109-degree reading in Quriyat, Oman, on June 28 amazed meteorologists because that wasn’t the day’s high temperature. That was the low . It was the hottest low temperature ever recorded on Earth.
Summer 2018: Drought has gripped much of the United States all year.
It has been an especially hot summer across the United States. Much of the nation remains in the grip of an epic heatwave.
Closer to home. Southwestern and Southeastern Colorado remain in an exceptional drought, as fires that raged for over a month continue to burn. Colorado’s farmers–from Yuma to Cortez–are in a world of hurt, as crop failures loom.
Of course it’s not just Colorado farmers. Economic calamity from climate change, and the failure of leaders to address it, is likely to be significant by all accounts, as the Insurance Journal summarizes: