If I know one thing for sure, it’s that 2020 is anything but a typical election year. When casting their ballot this year, voters in Colorado will need to worry about more than updating their voter registration, bringing their ID, or finding their polling location. In 2020, voters will also need to wear a mask to protect themselves from a global pandemic, as COVID-19 cases once again rise across Colorado. Voters will also need to navigate the climate catastrophe raging outside. For those voting in person, masks will serve a dual function: protecting them from COVID-19 and protecting their lungs from the toxic wildfire smoke.
In recent elections, climate change has increasingly become an important issue for voters, especially here in Colorado, but this year climate is taking center stage like never before. It is no longer an abstract threat down the road; the climate crisis is here and it’s getting worse (much worse) right before our eyes. As Coloradans walk to the mailbox to mail their ballot or wait in line at their polling place, the smoky acrid air serves as a constant reminder of the climate crisis. One they can no longer ignore.
While the pandemic drives an increase in voting by mail, the fires are creating complications for the postal service, making delivery in some areas impossible. For the Coloradans who have been displaced by the climate fires, their ballots may have been lost or destroyed, leaving them to file for a replacement while juggling the new uncertainty of daily life on a dying planet. In addition to evacuating residents, firefighters and local officials are also working hard to evacuate ballots to ensure voters have their voices heard.
This is a make it or break it election for our environment; that is not political hyperbole, it is science. The scientific community agrees that our window of opportunity to prevent the worst irreversible effects of climate change is rapidly closing. If we don’t act now, our future — one that isn’t so far off — on this planet will look very different. Colorado currently averages 10 extreme heat days annually and that number is projected to jump to almost 80 days by 2050. Also, this extreme heat will make wildfires more severe and more frequent. This devastation will come at an almost unfathomably steep price: climate change will cost Colorado nearly $1.3 billion per year (you read that right) by 2100. More than the financial toll, the beautiful state we know and love will become unrecognizable.
Nothing about this election is normal. Coloradans recognize that fact and it’s driving them en masse to vote for change. Despite all of the challenges, from the fires to the pandemic, more than a third of Coloradans have already voted. The politics of climate have changed and the majority of Coloradans are concerned about the climate crisis and want leaders to take bold action now.
This new wave of climate voters has had enough of politicians who pretend to be environmentalists, while denying that humans cause climate change. Voters see the consequences of climate inaction and know that no amount of greenwashing can undo the real harm anti-climate leaders have done to our planet and our communities. Selling out our public lands to allow Big Oil to get richer, while Coloradans suffer, only accelerates the climate crisis. More than two-thirds of voters in Colorado perceive themselves as conservationists and 81% prioritize clean water, air quality, and public lands when voting, according to a poll by Colorado College.
Colorado voters know that denial is not a plan. How can politicians like Donald Trump and Cory Gardner deny the crisis unfolding all around us? Perhaps they are blinded by the dollar signs Big Oil throws at them or perhaps they just don’t care because it’s not affecting them (yet). In any case, voters see the writing on the wall. They know they have the power to choose a better future. Voters know that combating climate change isn’t a question of believing the climate is changing (the science is settled), but about understanding the steps needed to stop this change. When Coloradans vote this year they will choose science over fiction, protecting our lands over protecting Big Oil, and climate action over climate denial.
Dr. Kristopher Larsen is the mayor of Nederland, CO, and is a planetary scientist.