Four Colorado governments have declared a climate emergency, and some Denver residents wonder if their city will follow suit.
This type of declaration, such as the one made by the City of Boulder in June, informs residents of the government's belief that climate change is an urgent issue. Boulder County also made a proclamation, as did Fort Collins and Basalt.
Declarations vary widely in commitment, with some promising to increase funding or promote ballot measures and some simply making a statement about where the government stands.
“The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that this is a serious situation, and only an emergency response is adequate," said Harry Gregory, a volunteer for Climate Mobilization.
Gregory said the climate emergency question was posed to and disregarded by Denver officials, so advocacy groups shifted the conversation to a ballot initiative. That led to creation of a recent pollution tax measure, which has been delayed by the city council and is pending.
Angie Fyfe, executive director of Local Governments for Sustainability, said that carbon tax falls short of what needs to be done, and an emergency declaration would be a more holistic option for the city.
"Limiting the solution to a carbon tax on businesses is inadequate," Fyfe said. "I don’t think the declaration is an absolute requirement, but there does need to be some form of mobilization of the citizens, visitors and businesses in the community."
Jerry Tinianow, Denver's first chief sustainability officer, started in 2012 and resigned last month. He said he examined data on the 987 governments around the world that have made the declaration and concluded it wasn't an effective solution for Denver.
“A declaration in and of itself, if it's not accompanied by some immediate communication of resources, at best expresses an intention to do something in the future without specification,” Tinianow said. "The climate changes whether you declare an emergency or not."
At minimum, a declaration would raise public awareness, said Fyfe and Gregory. It could "put people on notice," Fyfe said, similar to a snow emergency alert, and having the information come from an official source would be more effective than other methods.
"Certainly there’s a general awareness that climate change is happening and that we need to take action, but I don’t think the everyday resident of Denver understands what it is that they should be doing," Fyfe said. "I live in Denver; this is what I do for a profession, and I don't hear a lot of communication come from the city that tells me, as a resident, that I need to be reducing my carbon footprint."
Tinianow said Denver residents are fully aware of the issue. "I'm not sure they need their awareness raised much more. Awareness in itself doesn't do anything; you have to go from awareness to caring, and from caring to public action. Then the government has to fund that action and implement it."
But Gregory said, "I understand that technically (declaring a climate emergency) may not give the city power, but I think it informs the Denver residents that their government thinks we have an emergency, so then the people will hold the government accountable to do something about it."
He said Mayor Michael Hancock needs to be pressured to act.
"It's important for the city to go ahead with the proclamation now and build the public support for doing more than the mayor might do on his own. I believe he will follow public sentiment instead of leading it, and we don't have time for that."
The mayor's office does not recall getting a specific request for a climate emergency declaration in Denver, said a statement issued by Theresa Marchetta, the mayor's strategic communications director.
She noted that the city is on track to meet its 2020 goals on climate and will act with "even greater urgency" in the years ahead.
"We are without question facing a climate emergency, not just in Denver, but worldwide," she said. "Under Mayor Hancock’s leadership, Denver continues to be recognized as a leader in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut our carbon footprint, and increase the production and consumption of renewable energy.
"We’re excited to partner with City Council, activists, stakeholders and the entire community to elevate and accelerate our work. We fully intend to remain a leader as we do our part to help save our future.”