Opinion | Summit County commissioners: Adapting in the face of climate change | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Summit County commissioners: Adapting in the face of climate change

Josh Blanchard, Elisabeth Lawrence and Tamara Pogue
Summit Board of County Commissioners
Summit County commissioners, from left: Tamara Pogue, Josh Blanchard and Elisabeth Lawrence

By now, most of us are generally aware of the negative consequences of climate change here in Colorado. Heat-trapping pollution, known as greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide and methane, is causing higher temperatures and reduced snowpack, which has led to negative impacts that affect our mountain way of living.

These impacts range from increased fire danger, shorter ski seasons and reduced stream runoff, which reduce boating and fishing recreation opportunities, to hazy skies from wildfire smoke near and far. Many of us moved to Summit County for the beautiful landscape and pristine views our county offers, and when those are clouded in haze, it lowers our quality of life and can be downright hazardous to our health to be outdoors recreating or simply relaxing on our porches.

For any longtime resident or visitor, the effects of climate change feel palpable here, like an unfortunate new normal. Scientists have long predicted more extreme weather associated with climate change, and we are feeling that this year more than ever between the poor snowpack, low runoff and stream flows, smoky haze, torrential rainfall and mudslides.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization recently released new climate predictions for future temperatures and precipitation, specifically for Summit and Eagle counties. This report contains some good news and some bad news.

The good news is, if emissions are sharply reduced, then Summit County really won’t be much hotter in the future than it is today.

The bad news is that if heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced in the coming decades, it’s going to keep getting hotter and dryer. The report shows that with continuing high emissions, the hottest days of the year for Summit County:

  • In typical mid-century years, would average 85 degrees
  • In the extreme year in mid-century, would be 88
  • In typical late-century years, would average 90
  • In the extreme year in late century, would get as hot as 94

That’s hot enough to impact our biodiversity and our outdoor recreation lifestyle.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization report shows us that it is now more important than ever to embrace the strategies in our climate action plan, which was drafted and adopted in 2019 with the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, compared with a 2005 baseline.

Most of our emissions come from residential buildings, commercial buildings and transportation, so we must reduce emissions in these areas. In fact, the county and High Country Conservation Center have programs and initiatives to lower emissions from county operations and communitywide.

The Board of County Commissioners continues to work on strategies to address climate change, including:

  • Electric vehicles: Rapid adoption of electric vehicles is necessary to meet the county’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The electrification process is well underway, with three electric Summit Stage buses serving riders and 14 electric vehicle charging stations available in Frisco and Breckenridge for the workplace and public charging. The county will implement additional measures from its newly adopted Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan.
  • Building energy efficiency and renewable energy: The county adopted a Sustainable Building Code that requires new construction to be highly energy efficient, while reducing permitting costs and fees associated with rooftop solar systems. The county, in partnership with High Country Conservation Center, offers rebate and incentive programs for home and business energy efficiency and renewable projects through the Energy Smart Colorado, Resource Wise Business, and Solarize Summit programs.

The unfortunate reality of the new normal of climate change is that Summit County must adapt to hotter, dryer weather to become a more resilient community:

  • Wildfire safety and prevention: The chipping program has reduced fuels and timber around homes for hundreds of homeowners annually and tens of thousands throughout the life of the program. Landscape-scale wildfire protection measures, like the community clear cuts around densely developed areas, have proven to be highly effective measures against wildfires. In 2018, a U.S. Forest Service clear cut around Wildernest played a key role in the protection of that area from the Buffalo Fire and saved up to $1 billion in homes and infrastructure.

The reality is that Summit County can’t solve the climate crisis alone. We can do our best, however, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing environment. We thank our community members for the many efforts to protect our environment and reduce climate change. This gives us hope that together we can work to meet reduced emissions goals and manage the impact of climate change on our beautiful surroundings and way of life.

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