From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The record-breaking forest fires burning in Colorado even as winter sets in are the latest sign climate warming is hitting the West hard, causing scientists to up their rhetoric and warn it is past time to move beyond planning and start aggressively acting.
“We’ve got to get motivated and stop turning the thermostat up. That is urgent, not a sci-fi thing. It is us turning up the thermostat. It does not readily turn down. The farther we turn it up, the worse it will get,” said Scott Denning, a Colorado State University atmospheric scientist…
The rising heat is depleting water and drying soil across the Colorado River Basin and other river basins. Last week, federal authorities classified 97% of Colorado in severe to exceptional drought.
Mega-fires including 2020’s Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch are burning hotter and longer, with record destruction this year of 700,000 acres in Colorado and 6 million around the West. The smoke that exposed tens of millions of people to heavy particulates, health researchers say, will pose an even greater risk to public health in years to come…
Yet efforts to help residents cope, and even draw down heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by re-greening farmland and cities, have barely begun. A Denver Post examination found a $4.2 billion backlog of forestry work identified by the Colorado State Forest Service as critical to protect people and property from fires…
Farmers are left largely on their own as water vanishes and crops wilt. Local governments still approve urban expansion despite water supply strains…
Colorado’s average temperature has increased since 1990 by 2 degrees, faster than the global increase, with temperatures in western Colorado increasing more, said Clay Clarke, leader of a four-member climate team in the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
“And we will see years hotter than what we’ve had,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said. “There’s very high confidence in the climate science community that this warming is going to continue… and because the atmosphere is thirstier in hot years, what moisture you have goes away more quickly.”
Across the Southwest, the rising temperatures are drawing down water supplies, especially in the Colorado River Basin, where the crucial Lake Mead reservoir has dropped to 39% full and precious precipitation vanishes before it reaches rivers.
Streams and rivers in the basin will lose about 4% to 5% of water for every 1 degree temperatures rise, said Jeff Lukas, author of the 2020 Colorado River Basin State of the Science report done for Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other water agencies. By the end of the century, stream flow will decrease by 12% to 15% due to warming, he said.
A need to adapt became clear over the past 15 years as warming depleted water in the Colorado River by at least 6%, said Brad Udall, a CSU water center scientist who analyzes federal flow data.
What’s the rational response?
“Rationality means getting really serious about GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions. It also means planning for the worst with respect to water supplies and fires. We’re doing none of these things, although the water community at least realizes the threat and is making some efforts to think about it,” Udall said.
“Climate change is the ultimate ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ game. To fix it you have to have pain now, and reap the benefits later. That’s never a good setup for political action.”
The bigger burning, in turn, worsens respiratory health as people inhale tiny particulates that lodge in their lungs and clog airways, straining heart and lung functioning.
Multiple weeks and even months of exposure to fire smoke in cities will lead to “increased respiratory infections and mortality,” said Emily Fischer, a researcher for CSU’s program on air, climate and health, who had just measured an Air Quality Index reading of 368 — hazardous — in Fort Collins…
Colorado has nearly completed a statewide inventory that estimates emissions from multiple sources of CO2, methane and other heat-trapping gases that drive climate warming. It will lay the groundwork for enforcing tougher regulations.
Lawmakers have ordered cuts below 2005 levels — 30% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Colorado’s emerging strategy would meet those goals by requiring a faster shift away from gas-power to zero-emission vehicles; closing coal-fired power plants; reducing methane pollution by the oil and gas industry; and making the heating and cooling of buildings more efficient.