Where Colorado candidates stand on climate change
Thousands of people died as a result of an unprecedented heat wave that settled over Europe last week, becoming some of the latest casualties in the accelerating global climate crisis.
In Colorado, a Southwestern megadrought driven largely by rising temperatures has broken all records to become the region’s worst dry spell in at least 1,200 years. Farmers, ranchers and municipal water suppliers face worsening shortages. Ski resorts and other recreational industries face uncertain futures. In recent years, Coloradans have died in climate-fueled wildfires, in the floods and debris flows that follow in their burn scars, and from the deadly air pollution that chokes the skies along the Front Range.
Nearly four years ago, scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of global warming would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” But since then, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued their upward trend, reaching another all-time high in 2021.
In the United States, President Joe Biden last year announced plans to cut nationwide emissions by at least 50% within the next decade, in line with IPCC recommendations. But experts say that is likely impossible without substantial action by Congress to reorient the U.S. economy towards decarbonization, bringing down the cost of a transition to clean energy relative to carbon-emitting fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
With talks over a scaled-down package of clean-energy spending stalled amid opposition from all 50 Senate Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the window for action in the 117th Congress may be closing.
For five of Colorado’s most competitive and impactful 2022 races, Newsline submitted questions to candidates and reviewed past statements to determine their stances on climate and energy issues. Read more about their positions below.
U.S. Senate: Sen. Michael Bennet (D) vs. Joe O’Dea (R)
Denver construction CEO and first-time candidate Joe O’Dea has rejected the scientific consensus on manmade climate change, falsely claiming in a Denver7 interview that “there’s a debate there still to be had” on the extent to which human activity contributes to global warming.
In fact, scientists have agreed for decades that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change, and their confidence has only grown over time.
Summarizing vast bodies of existing research, a 2021 report by the IPCC concluded that average global temperatures have increased by roughly 1.1 degree Celsius since 1850. Human influence is estimated to have caused 0.8 to 1.3 degrees of warming over that period, while “natural drivers” like solar or volcanic activity have had a negligible impact, contributing between –0.1 and +0.1 degree.
In a June primary debate, O’Dea ruled out a shift away from fossil fuels for the “next 100 years,” a position at odds with IPCC scientists, who have warned policymakers to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of continued warming.
Incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet has consistently advocated for measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions and address the “global crisis” of climate change, though he has eschewed more sweeping policy frameworks like the progressive-backed Green New Deal. In 2019 and 2020, he was the only senator to be a member of both the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis and the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, according to his website.
“Droughts, wildfires and air pollution are threatening the Colorado way of life,” Bennet’s campaign says. “For years, Michael has fought for solutions that address climate change, cut pollution, and make sure all Coloradans have clean air and water.”
Governor: Gov. Jared Polis (D) vs. Heidi Ganahl (R)
Gov. Jared Polis took office in 2019 amid a wave of activist support for more ambitious action to fight climate change, and in a speech to lawmakers days after his inauguration promised to “confront this challenge head-on.”
Together with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, his administration has overseen implementation of Colorado’s most significant and comprehensive climate policies to date — but Polis has also frustrated environmental advocates and some Democratic lawmakers with an approach that critics say is too light on regulation. Several key emissions-cutting measures have been delayed, withdrawn or pared back in the fact of opposition from conservative business groups.
On the campaign trail, University of Colorado Regent-at-Large Heidi Ganahl has addressed climate change infrequently and in vague terms. In one interview, she said only that the “climate is changing all the time,” while in another she acknowledged that “man is involved in changing the climate.” The words “climate change” don’t appear anywhere on her campaign website.
As is the case with 2020 election conspiracy theories, Ganahl has occasionally courted more fringe elements in her party. In 2019, she helped host a “debate” at the University of Colorado Boulder between a prominent climate change denier and an environmentalist, explaining that it’s important to hear “both sides of an issue.”
8th Congressional District: Barbara Kirkmeyer (R) vs. Yadira Caraveo (D)
A longtime fixture in northern Colorado politics, Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer has taken what is among the most extreme stances on climate of any 2022 candidate, flatly rejecting the science of human-caused global warming.
Responding to The Colorado Sun last month, Kirkmeyer said that “the Earth has been gradually warming since the Little Ice Age,” and falsely claimed that “to what extent any warming is a result of man-caused activity is unknown.”
In fact, scientists say the pace of warming observed since 1850 is unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, and is driven predominantly by anthropogenic greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the atmospheric concentration of which has reached its highest level in nearly 3 million years.
“How old are you?” Alan Philp, a spokesperson for Kirkmeyer’s campaign, asked a reporter in a brief phone interview. “You wouldn’t remember the ’70s. I remember the ’70s, when the scientific consensus was all about global cooling.” (A well-worn talking point among climate deniers, the “global cooling” hypothesis attracted only scant news coverage in the 1970s and was not at any point an established consensus.)
Philp objected to the characterization of Kirkmeyer “denying” anthropogenic climate change, but said Kirkmeyer stands by her statement. “There are plenty of meteorologists who would say exactly what she said,” he claimed, citing Weather Channel co-founder John Coleman, a prominent climate change denier who died in 2018 and did not hold a degree in meteorology.
State Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton was elected to the General Assembly in 2018, and has helped lead efforts by Democratic lawmakers to bolster the state’s climate programs.
“As a pediatrician, I see the effects of climate change on the health of our children and families every day,” Caraveo said earlier this year. “In the state legislature, I’ve worked to create clean energy jobs, hold corporations accountable to keep our air and water clean and address the disparate impacts of climate change on the working class and communities of color. I look forward to continuing that work in Congress.”
7th Congressional District: Brittany Pettersen (D) vs. Erik Aadland (R)
Like Caraveo, state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, Democrats’ nominee for the 7th District seat held by the retiring Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, has consistently supported climate-action legislation in the General Assembly in recent years.
Republican nominee Erik Aadland, who worked for nine years as an engineer and manager for oil and gas giant Noble Energy, did not respond to inquiries about which specific federal policies he would support to reduce emissions and combat climate change.
”Man-made impact on the environment is real and may have long reaching consequences for the future of humanity,” Aadland’s website says. “I will advocate for smart, balanced regulations that safeguard our nation’s natural resources and diverse environment while enabling industry to thrive and the private sector empowered to innovate and solve problems.”
3rd Congressional District: Rep. Lauren Boebert (R) vs. Adam Frisch (D)
No Colorado congressional district is more affected by climate change than the 3rd District, largely on the Western Slope, where the Colorado River Basin has been gripped by a warming-driven megadrought — but GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt has consistently downplayed the issue and opposed efforts to cut emissions.
Boebert has used her highly active Twitter account as a prolific platform for climate-related misinformation, like a false viral claim that the Biden administration plans to limit Americans’ consumption of red meat. Her rhetoric on climate issues has often veered into conspiracism, centered on claims that Democratic climate policies reflect a determination “to destroy this nation” and serve as cover for an increase in undocumented immigration. “It’s never been about green energy. It’s never been about climate change,” she wrote in another widely shared tweet. “It’s always been about control.”
Boebert’s opponent, former Aspen City Council member Adam Frisch, argues that “the shift to renewable energy must be voluntary and incentive based,” and cautioned against policies that would harm the oil and gas industry.
“Colorado is the gold standard of clean, responsibly-produced energy, especially oil and natural gas,” Frisch said. “Outsourcing energy production harms not (only) the global climate, but also the American economy.”
He said he supports “much of what was in the Build Back Better bill,” including clean-energy tax credits and funding for research and development.
“I do think overall a lot of the proposed solutions are prioritizing urban areas, and leaving out rural areas like CD3,” Frisch added. “We need to make sure any clean energy legislation prioritizes communities that are most affected by the transition by locating new facilities and programs focused on clean energy and targeting these dollars in places like Moffat or Delta County rather than continuing to siphon dollars to big cities.”