By Joe Salazar and Micah Parkin
Two weeks of Colorado Climate Strike actions recently culminated with a final rally in Civic Center Park in Denver with the inspirational 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who ignited the Global Climate Strikes. In Colorado and around the world, adults answered youth calls to join them in a week of action to address the climate crisis, which is imperiling their future. In Colorado, there were more than 48 Climate Strike events statewide, with more than 10,000 participants cumulatively, yielding more than 100 news stories. More than 7.6 million people participated globally, making it the largest climate mobilization in history.
Repeatedly at the Colorado actions, youth activists called on Gov. Jared Polis and other elected officials to stop permitting fossil fuel projects, including fracking for oil and gas, recognizing that the best available science requires us to cut fossil fuel emissions by at least 50% within a decade. Last year’s UN International Panel on Climate Change report indicated that this level of emissions reduction is required to have even a 50% chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the most dire global impacts resulting in far more deaths and extinctions. For a 66% chance of meeting the UN goal, we have to stop burning all fossil fuels by 2035, and of course we must act even sooner for a greater chance of protecting our children’s futures.
Unfortunately, instead of reducing emissions, recent NASA, Harvard and Cornell studies have confirmed that the frightening global methane spike over the last decade is a result of U.S. fracking. And of course when all of the fracked oil and gas is burned, it contributes even more greenhouse gas emissions. These are major cumulative impacts threatening the health, safety and very lives of billions of people — here in Colorado and around the world — and it’s contributing to the Earth’s sixth mass extinction period we’ve entered, with more than 200 species going extinct every single day.
Young people around the world are afraid for their futures and are calling for adults to stand with them and take appropriate action to ensure that they have a safe, healthy future, which requires a livable climate. In Colorado, their health is being imperiled by the cumulative impacts of continued exposure to fracking toxins likely contributing to the increase in childhood cancers adjacent to fracking sites and ozone-forming volatile organic compounds, which have resulted in F-grade air quality along the Front Range.
Instead of answering the call of the youth to protect their future, Polis (and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Air Quality Control Commission under his leadership) are continuing to permit fracking at levels near the permitting under former Gov. John Hickenlooper (who bragged about drinking fracking fluid). Research released last week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showed significant health impacts to people living within 2,000 feet of fracking, including high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen that is likely related to the increased incidence of nose bleeds and childhood leukemia associated with living by fracking.
Until and unless third party research shows that permitting hundreds of additional fracking wells each month (as is the current situation) can be allowed without the resulting cumulative emissions causing serious health impacts and worsening the Front Range’s F-grade air quality and the climate crisis, it is unforgivably irresponsible and runs contrary to the directives of Senate Bill 19-181 — which requires that health and safety be prioritized — to allow this madness to continue.
Scientists and public health researchers have made incredibly clear that fracking is greatly exacerbating the climate crisis and endangering public health and safety. In order to make good on promises to do our part to address the climate crisis, Polis and the COGCC must stop the permitting and begin rapidly phasing out oil and gas development.
Thanks again to everyone who stood with the world’s youth during Climate Strike Action Week and who are speaking out to demand a livable world for our children. As adults and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children. In the words of Thunberg, who kicked off the strikes, to the UN Summit on Climate, “If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you!”