HOME TO SIX national parks and recreation areas, more than 1,000 soaring Rocky Mountain peaks, and nearly 30 ski resorts, Colorado is a prime tourist destination. It is also a rapidly growing state. Its population expanded by 34 percent 1990-2000, and, in 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau identified it as the eighth fastest-growing state in the United States. The combination of rapid growth and a S2.4 billion tourist industry already place heavy pressure upon the state's resources. Between 1807 and 1907, Colorado's precipitation decreased as much as 20 percent in many parts of the state, and recent droughts have left Colorado facing half-full reservoirs. Predictions that global warming could bring hotter, drier summers that will affect all areas of the state's economy have prompted the state to take decisive action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and focus on sustainability.
Colorado's climate change plan, Climate Change and Colorado—A Technical Assessment, has been in effect since 1998. The state's carbon efficiency rate improved by 29 percent 1990-2001, the seventh best record in the nation. This improvement was accomplished with an economy growing by 91 percent. Although Colorado did not have the problems with air quality that more heavily-industrialized states did, carbon dioxide emissions were growing at a rate even faster than the population, a 39 percent increase 1990-2004. The state ranked 23rd in its emissions, but its increase rate was the fifth largest in the nation, more than double the national increase of 18 percent. Fossil fuel combustion created 78 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.
By 2004, the state's snow pack had been below average for 14 of the last 18 years, and melting was occur ring earlier in the spring. For a state that depended upon snowmelt for 70-90 percent of its water, the changes were alarming. A 2004 study, using a conservative climate model, concluded that in just one generation, the Colorado River basin could have 3 percent less precipitation, 24 percent less snow pack, 14 percent less runoff, and 36 percent less water storage. Such a scenario would mean increased droughts, more wildfires, and a range of changes in the ecosystem.
Such losses could ravage ski resorts, and yields of the state's two major crops, corn and wheat, could decline from 8-33 percent due to decreases in soil moisture and water available for irrigation. Habitats throughout the state would be threatened. Species from the endangered greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado's cold waters, to the migrating whooping cranes in the marshes of the Platte River basin, to the alpine-dwelling American pika, already extirpated in some locations that have grown too warm, would be at risk. Such loss of habitat and wildlife would lead
to job losses and damage to the state's economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on Emissions offered two scenarios: unchanged emissions and more than a 50 percent snow pack reduction in most areas; or reduced emissions and 50 percent reduction in some areas.
Leaders in the public and private sector have begun working to find solutions. In November 2004, Colorado became the first U.S. state to create a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by ballot initiative. With this act, utilities serving 40,000 or more customers were required to generate or purchase 10 percent of their retail electric sales from renewable-energy resources. In the summer of 2006, the Colorado Climate Project was launched. The mission statement of the Climate Action Panel is modeled after similar statements in other states; its purpose is to make recommendations that will render the state less vulnerable to climate changes without undue damage to the economy. But, the Colorado plan is unique in that the impetus came not from government action, but from the collaboration of elected officials, business leaders, and environmental activists on a private initiative.
In March 2007, Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that increased Colorado's 2004 RPS. Under the new standard, large investor-owned utilities are required to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020, 4 percent of which must come from solar-electric technologies. The law also requires municipal utilities and rural electric providers to provide 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Although the act allows considerable choice concerning the source of the renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and small hydroelectric, wind power is likely the most popular choice. Colorado ranks 11th in the nation in its wind energy resources, and although some wind farms have developed, their numbers are few. Experts estimate that Colorado wind power has the potential to generate over 450 billion kilowatt-hours annually, more than enough to meet the state's needs.
Colorado cities have taken action, too. Aspen already generates enough energy from wind and hydropower to meet 75 percent of its electricity needs, and has set a goal of 100 percent within five years. In an effort to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, the city of Aspen provides free transit for residents and tourists and has purchased electric hybrid automobiles for city officials' use when traveling out of the city. Denver has initiated its own climate action plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4.4 million metric tons by 2020, the equivalent of eliminating two small coal-fired power plants or taking 500,000 cars off the road. The city of Boulder recently enacted the nation's first tax on carbon emissions from electricity.
SEE ALSO: Colorado Climate Center; Colorado State University; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
BIBLIOGRApHY. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Air Pollution Control Division, "Report to the Public Colorado Air Quality Control Commission," www.cdphe.state.co.us (cited September 2007); Colorado College, "The 2007 Colorado College State of the Rockies Report Card," www.coloradocollege.edu (cited September 2007); B.G. Rabe, "Race to the Top: The Expanding Role of U.S. State Renewable Portfolio Standards," Pew Center on Global Climate Change, www.pewclimate. org, (June 2006); Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, www.coloradoclimate.org (cited September 2007); Stuart Steers, "Denver Targets Global Warming," Rocky Mountain News (June 11, 2007).
Wylene Rholetter Auburn University
Was this article helpful?
Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.