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Denial and Loathing in Colorado

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Climate disruption is not a political issue; it’s a moral issue.

– Anne Jane Joyner

Massive flooding, mudslides in Western Colorado, and earthquakes in Greeley are all top news stories in Colorado, except human-driven climate change is never mentioned.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on May 10, 2013, that the daily mean of concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958.  It is estimated by scientists that 350 ppm is the range earth needs to be in to maintain environmental balance.  Regarding human-driven climate change from burning coal, oil, and natural gas the NOAA reported, “Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, global average CO2 was about 280 ppm. During the last 800,000 years, CO2 fluctuated between about 180 ppm during ice ages and 280 ppm during interglacial warm periods. Today’s rate of increase is more than 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended.”

Along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that greenhouse gases have caused temperatures to rise, sparking extreme weather, the White House’s “National Climate Assessment” recently reported that climate change is causing dramatic rainfall, droughts, fires, and rising sea levels in the US.  The report detailed how Colorado and the southwest will see increased heat, insect outbreaks, drought conditions, declining water supply, a reduction in agriculture, and “health impacts in cities due to heat.”  Dr. John Holdren explained that climate change is not a distant threat but affecting American people already.  Despite the recent reports of the devastating amount of emissions according to Democracy Now, “House lawmakers passed an amendment to a major military spending bill, which bars the Pentagon from using funds to address climate change and its potential impact on national security.”

Dramatic evidence of climate change was seen in September 2013, when it rained in 17 Colorado counties for more then a week, dumping more than 21 inches of rain in Colorado severely crippling Boulder and the Lyons region.  Eight people died in the flooding, thousands of homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of houses were damaged.  Cliff Wilming who is part of East Boulder County United reported that during the flood multiple fracking wells were flooded, damaged, and pipelines were broken as well.  In spite of the scientific evidence of human-driven climate change, the flood was often referred to as mysterious and biblical, rarely intertwined with talk of climate change.

On May 25, 2014, a four-mile long mudslide left three missing near Palisade, Colorado.  Although geologist Jon White indicated he did not think the mudslide was caused by fracking, there is a great deal of fracking wells and oil and gas pits near the area.  Regarding increased rainfall, White suggested that waterfall entering the canyon may have sparked the mudslide and that the mudslide might move again.  No talk of increased rainfall tied to climate change was mentioned by mainstream news outlets.

On May 31, 2014, a 3.4 magnitude earthquake shook northeast Greeley, Colorado, where many fracking wells are located in the Niobara shale formation.  According to the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Information Center, “Activities that have induced felt earthquakes in some geologic environments have included impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the earth’s crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations.” A study conducted by William Ellsworth published in the journal Science, found that the “injection of fluids into underground formations are capable of inducing earthquakes.” As reported by Colorado’s Phillip Doe, “… Scott Denning, the Monfort chair of Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University [who is] a former field geologist and fracker, said in an open forum that fracking is a heavy industrial activity that should not be allowed in any city. ”

The Associated Press recently stated that four in 10 new oil and gas wells in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming near national forests and fragile watersheds aren’t being inspected properly.  Dennis Willis, former Bureau of Land Management officer explained it was “a disaster waiting to happen.”

At a recent talk at Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, founder and director of Alternative Radio, David Barsamian explained that there is a full-scale assault on the environment in Colorado.  Calling the “corporate media a health hazard,” Barsamian emphasized how pipeline leaks are routinely ignored on news stations and how June. 5, 2014, was World Environment Day and no discussion or coverage was seen on any news stations.  Another example of climate denial in Colorado is the Denver Post, which is still publishing climate hoax/denial opinion pieces, which pushes environmental dialogue in the wrong direction.  Publications like Reddit and the Los Angeles Times recently banned climate hoax/denial op-eds, defending their decision by stating, “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

As long as meaningful action on climate change will hurt the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industries, the media conglomerates and Wall Street, we can’t expect the media blackout to end. ‘It’s called capitalism,’ as Google’s Eric Schmidt said last week trying to explain the Internet giant’s evasions of billions of dollars in taxes. – Craig Brown, Founder of Common Dreams

As stated in an article by Stenhouse et al. in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “Meteorologists and other atmospheric science experts are playing important roles in helping society respond to climate change.”  World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarraud stated last month, “This should serve as yet another wakeup call about the constantly rising levels of greenhouse gases which are driving climate change. If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we need urgent action to curb new emissions of these heat trapping gases … Time is running out.”

However, in Colorado, mainstream news meteorologists rarely mention climate change and often refer to increased flooding or severe or deadly weather as strange, unpredictable, or mysterious.  By not framing Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan that killed more than 1,000 in the Philippines, the 2013 Colorado floods, and other extreme weather as being spawned from human-driven climate change, the public discussion on climate change will be quarantined in the shadowy corner while pop culture talk and Bieber mug shots will flourish.

As trained scientists, meteorologists, who have been Certified Broadcast Meteorologists and approved by the National Weather Association have the responsibility to tell the truth about climate change and should not lie by omission.  Investigative reporter Mike De Souza recently uncovered that weather forecasters in Canada are forbidden from discussing climate change.  Silence can be deadly, silence can be violent, and as stated by Martin Luther King Jr., “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Chris Steele is a journalist.  He can be reached at: csteele@regis.edu.  

Chris Steele is a journalist.  He can be reached at: csteele@regis.edu.  

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