The executive director of the state's largest environmental advocacy organization says it's no coincidence Colorado is poised to make some serious strides on climate as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
"The science tells us that we need to be acting with urgency. I think COVID really brought to the forefront these kinds of public health challenges, and climate change at its core is a public health challenge," said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
"We have the opportunity for a Colorado-style recovery that prioritizes public health. We see this as a moment in time to build the economy for the future grounded in these things, and we see the public looking for those things and supportive of that kind of leadership."
She added: "We saw that in 2009 with the Great Recession and the recovery spending, what it did for Colorado’s clean energy economy — it helped us come out of the recession stronger and faster than other states. If we are at the forefront and are leading on these issues, it’s a real opportunity for the state looking forward and building the economy of the future."
The group, which counts about 50,000 members and is a leading voice on everything environmental in one of the most environmentally conscious states, designated this week — leading up to Earth Day on Thursday — Climate Week and set an ambitious agenda aimed at pushing legislation and other activities the group says are aimed at addressing the climate crisis with ambitious action.
"We hear from (legislative) leadership and members in both chambers a deep understanding of the urgency and the role that they play," Nordini said, adding that lawmakers are avid to build on a 2019 legislative package that established greenhouse gas reduction targets and executing plans contained in Gov. Jared Polis' climate road map.
On Monday, Conservation Colorado joined ProgressNow Colorado and a handful of Democratic legislators in front of a 2-ton ice sculpture of the planet Earth to rally support for a trio of climate-related bills — Senate Bill 21-200 and House Bills 21-1189 and 21-1266 — Nordini said work as a package to address questions of environmental justice, which is a way of describing efforts to tackle how pollution disproportionately affects poorer and marginalized communities.
"There’s increasing awareness that environmental justice and climate action are inextricably linked, and that at the core on climate issues, environmental justice is about pollution reduction," she said. "The way these bills define impacted communities and environmental justice, and provide resources for the work on that front and to further implement the roadmap, those all work together really well."
While polling shows wide majorities of bipartisan support for climate action, Republican lawmakers have mostly opposed proposals the group has backed, but Nordini said she's hopeful the tide will turn.
"Colorado has a long tradition and identity around environmental issues," she said. "Back in 2004, we started with the first voter-approved renewable energy standard, and we see the public support for this kind of leadership going up and up and up."
A series of statewide public opinion polls conducted over the last year and a half by Global Strategy Group has consistently shown that Colorado voters "not only want to see their representatives take strong — and timely — action to combat climate change but will also reward supporters of such action at the ballot box," wrote pollsters Andrew Baumann and Nicole Jaconetty in an April 2 polling memo shared with Colorado Politics. "These attitudes are broad-based but are particularly strong with key voting blocs including unaffiliated voters, Latinos, and political swing voters."
Nordini said one reason support for aggressive climate action is so high and widespread is because everyone can see the effects of climate change, including last year's devastating wildfires, including the three largest in state history.
"From wildfires, drought and, frankly, weird weather, people know they are experiencing the impact of climate right now — this is no longer a future-generation thing," she said.
"And (the pandemic) really reconnected people to the outdoors and the solace and the respite the outdoors provides. All of our public spaces, our state parks, our national parks, have been flooded with people wanting to get outdoors and experience that, what it means to have a healthy environment, what we get from it."