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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Colorado’s poor air quality is a dire sample of what climate change will bring

Smoke-filled skies, burning lungs, and advisories to keep children indoors have marred the past two Colorado summers, and according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, these nasty effects of a warming climate will only increase in frequency and intensity over the next decade.

Humanity must dig deep to secure a future that is healthy and comfortable for Earth’s 8 billion inhabitants.

In Colorado, climate change is felt in the mega-fires that have burned record-breaking amounts of land in the West these past two years. The fires’ size and intensity were driven by underlying climate conditions that made our forests exceptionally vulnerable. Drought created tinderboxes of dried plants where green undergrowth once thrived, and mountain pine beetles have ravished our forest’s trees without a hard freeze to kill the pests off.

The fires are spewing dangerous fine particles that can damage lungs and cause asthma and chronic heart and lung conditions to worsen. At least one study has found the particles get more dangerous — becoming free radicals — the longer they linger in the air.

On top of fire pollution, the Front Range is also grappling with unhealthy amounts of ground-level ozone which is created when tailpipe and industrial emissions combine in the hot sun. We’ve made strides in reducing our ozone emissions but we have exceeded the EPA’s threshold 37 times this summer with ozone action alerts.

In the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, climate change was felt in the deadly heatwave this June. Portland hit a high of 116 degrees F. Scientists cautioned in the IPCC report that heatwaves could be 5 degrees hotter in the coming decades if we don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Southwest, severe drought and evaporation are drawing down reservoirs of water, and farmland in the region could go fallow next year without significant precipitation and unprecedented water-sharing from upriver.

The IPCC report that was released this week was devastating. The world has already warmed 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) and could surpass the 1.5-degree mark in the early 2030s. Systematically, the IPCC scientists tied global extreme weather events to man-made climate change with almost complete certainty and often “very likely” confidence.

The possibility of keeping human-induced warming under 2 degrees is rapidly slipping away too, according to the 234 authors of the United Nation’s IPCC report who reviewed 14,000 studies to document the human effects on the climate.

These scientists estimate that if the global community is going to avoid the worst effects of a 2-degree increase in average global temperatures, we must start drastically limiting our greenhouse gas emissions and engage in carbon capture technology to remove some of the CO2 from our atmosphere so more heat can escape.


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