Routt County tourism economy will suffer as climate change worsens
With this week’s dire and disheartening reports of faster planetary warming from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thoughts turn to what can be done locally to help with the global climate crisis.
Both the Routt County Board of Commissioners and Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved the 132-page Routt County Climate Action Plan on July 6, followed by a unanimous vote for adoption by the Yampa Town Board last week.
“The Town of Yampa feels it is important to minimize our carbon footprint in the county and feel working together as a county will make a united front for our community,” Yampa Town Clerk Sheila Symons said.
The Town Council in Hayden plans to adopt the climate action plan next week, and the Oak Creek Town Board is scheduled to review the plan at an Aug. 26 meeting.
Work on the plan, which can be found online at SteamboatSprings.net/cap, began in March 2020 and was completed in June of this year.
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“The time to act on climate change was yesterday, and I’m pleased that the city, county and our entire community are starting to take aggressive action now,” said Sarah Jones, sustainability director at Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. who serves on the climate action plan project management team.
“Routt County recognizes the urgent need to reduce emissions and prevent the worst impacts of climate change,” according to the CAP executive summary. “If current emissions levels are not abated, the county and similar mountain communities and local tourism-based economies across Colorado and the Southwest are in danger of experiencing significant impacts from changes in the regional climate.”
The plan notes Routt County faces many climate impacts and risks, including drought, extreme heat, flooding, increased wildfires, reduced snowpack and shifts in seasonal weather patterns “that will significantly impact daily life for residents and visitors in the future.” According to the plan, local agriculture, air quality, cultural fabric, complex and variable economic impacts, public health, water quality and supply and watershed health are the primary areas that could be most affected by changes in the climate.
“This plan focuses on reducing our emissions and illustrating that we have a role to play in protecting our future,” said Tim Corrigan, chair of the Board of Commissioners. “We are stepping up and doing our part, and we encourage every other community to replicate our policy and implement ideas in our plan. The only way to address climate action is to work together on tangible solutions.”
The local plan outlines 22 strategies in the areas of energy, transportation, waste, land use, economy and accountability. If all of the strategies were implemented successfully, Routt County could reduce communitywide greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030 and by 74% by 2050 compared to the 2018 emissions baseline.
Organizers say success of the Routt County climate action plan relies on broad collaboration and coordination within the community and suggests the creation of a Climate Action Collaborative, which is a model for accountability, partnership and coordination that has been implemented in other mountain communities, such as in Eagle and Summit counties.
The next step in the process is creating a collaborative board to help move forward on the 22 strategies, and town officials volunteered Hayden to be the fiscal agent for this step, said Hayden Town Manager Matt Mendisco.
‘Code red for humanity’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest findings, which were approved by 195 member states Friday, focus on the physical science basis of climate change and outline how humans are altering the planet. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the current report as “code red for humanity.”
On Monday, the panel released the sixth assessment report that notes, “Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes, such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence has strengthened since the fifth assessment report.
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred,” the report says.
“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” Guterres said in a statement Monday. “Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible. The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close.
“We are already at 1.2 degrees and rising. Warming has accelerated in recent decades. Every fraction of a degree counts. Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels. Extreme weather and climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity,” Guterres said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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