Colorado & Climate Change

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You’ve heard about them in the past – climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases – hot-button issues in politics and policy that are frequently argued by legislators and scientists. While there is little doubt that the Earth has gotten warmer over the past 100 years, the cause of that warming is still fiercely debated today.

However, the vast majority of the scientific community agrees – global warming is a real danger, and humans are contributing to it. The usual arguments against the claim appear in columns and opinion pieces in newspapers and websites across the nation, with few peer-reviewed studies to back them up.

In fact, in a 2004 review of 928 academic studies concerning the subject, researcher Naomi Oreskes was unable to find one single conclusion that supported the idea that human activities were not impacting global warming.

Before exploring how humans are adding to the global warming phenomenon, it’s important to understand exactly how it happens in the first place.

How does global warming occur?

How does global warming occur?

The main contributors to global warming are greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Greenhouse gases occur naturally in our atmosphere, and aren’t inherently bad. Actually, without greenhouse gases, Earth would be far too cold for us to survive.

When the Sun gives off heat and light, it travels toward the Earth, penetrates the atmosphere, and is absorbed by the oceans and land. Those in turn give off heat, which travels upward toward the atmosphere in the form of infrared radiation.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb much of this heat, distributing it across the Earth’s surface. Because the greenhouse gases prevent it from escaping the planet, the heat remains near the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere.

So what’s the problem here?

Unfortunately, the beneficial aspects of greenhouse gases rely on maintaining them at their proper levels. When too many greenhouse gases make up the atmosphere, the Earth’s delicate natural balance is thrown into disarray.

Suddenly, heat that used to escape from the atmosphere remains trapped, warming the oceans and bringing drastic changes to weather patterns and the environment. Why is this happening?

What happens when the Earth warms?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, warming temperatures could drastically impact how the Earth as we know it today exists. Some of the effects of global warming include:

  • Higher chance of draught
  • Wilder weather patterns
  • Changing snow and rain patterns
  • Less snowpack
  • Warmer Oceans and melting glaciers
  • Rising sea level

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

On the one hand, natural events do cause more greenhouse gases to be released in the atmosphere. For example, volcanic eruptions emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, but even these eruptions are dwarfed by the amount of carbon dioxide released from human activities.

Scientists believe that advances since the industrial revolution have played a large part in the increase of greenhouse gases. As emerging technologies have become more widespread, people around the world have burned more coal, oil, and natural gas to power them. In particular, burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide – a major greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.

As the use of fossil fuels has become more widespread, concentrations of greenhouse gases have also increased. According to research from the Environmental Protection Agency, the atmosphere today contains 40% more carbon dioxide than it did in pre-industrial times. They also estimate that current carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in 800,000 years.

How could global warming impact Colorado?

How could global warming impact Colorado?

Unfortunately, warming temperatures have already had drastic impacts in Colorado. If you’ve ever taken a drive through the mountains, you’ve already noticed the dead and decaying trees that line the roads and valleys.

These trees have been infested with mountain pine beetles, which are thriving in the climate created by global warming. The current outbreak of pine beetles is larger than in the past, when frigid winters would kill off many of the pests. Warmer winters have allowed the beetles to thrive, expanding their territory and destroying more of Colorado’s trees.

The spread of beetle-killed trees is only one of the more obvious impacts of global warming in Colorado, which could also face serious economic difficulties from warmer winters. Consider the United States winter sports industry, which is worth more than $12.2 billion dollars and employs 211,900 jobs nationwide.

According to the Mountain Studies Institute, temperatures in Colorado have already increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last three decades, and by 2050, will have increased to 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit. These seemingly small changes in temperature will actually have huge impacts on the amount of snowfall Colorado has, leading to an eventual decrease in ski tourism.

If greenhouse gas emissions maintain their current levels, the length of the Colorado ski season could see serious reductions. Already, between 1978 and 2004 snowmelt has shifted two weeks earlier in Western Colorado, and by 2040, the total snowpack could be reduced by 20%.

With a smaller overall snowpack each year, and an earlier snowmelt in the spring, summer months in Colorado will become hotter and drier. Snowpack accounts for 70% of Colorado’s water supply, meaning more droughts and less overall water availability if global warming’s effects are not slowed.

So how can we slow these effects?

Reducing the Impact

Currently, electricity generation is the largest source of greenhouse gases and harmful air pollutants in the United States. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, fossil fuel-fired power plants account for 40% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and embracing solar technologies are key personal and policy decisions that can help combat the effects of global warming. According to “Environmental Impacts from the Solar Energy Technologies,” the use of solar panels can help to:

  • Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
  • Improve the quality of our water resources
  • Restore degraded land
  • Decrease the amount of smog or air pollutants surrounding towns and cities

When you purchase electricity from your utility company, it’s most likely created through the burning of coal, natural gas, or oil. Generating electricity from solar panels results in zero of the harmful emissions that are released when fossil fuels are burned.

This means that as more people convert to solar photovoltaic systems to power their homes and businesses, the overall level of harmful emissions should decrease in the atmosphere over time. To learn more about how solar can benefit you, contact solar panel installers in your area.

Global Climate Change News

Global Climate Change News

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