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Alice Madden Named As Colorado’s Climate Change Coordinator

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Gov. Bill Ritter named former state legislator Alice Madden as Colorado’s Climate Change Coordinator.  I think this is a smart thing to do because of the complexity of plans to address climate change at the state level here in Colorado.  What exactly will Madden do?  The job description didn’t show up in the Daily Camera article, but I think there is enough information there to get an idea.  In a very general sense, she will work to achieve the goals in Colorado’s Climate Action Plan (more on that below).  Madden’s comments on the appointment fill out some details for us:

Madden, who was term limited last year, said in the release that climate change is, “taking its toll in every corner of Colorado.”

“Farmers, ranchers and the ski industry are concerned about winter snowpack,” she said in the release. “Citizens are worried about rising energy costs. Commuters are concerned about efficient and affordable transportation choices, and we all are worried about the future of our forests, air and water.”

As I’ve written about, climate change is a very big, very complex problem.  It touches every other policy area I can think of, so efforts to address it introduce the need to address how those efforts impact other policy topics.  So it’s not very surprising that the job description at the time of announcement is a little fuzzy.  I’m sure they’re going to further define her role as they move forward.  Much like President Obama, I don’t necessarily envy Madden – both for the reason listed above (complexity) but also because the problem will be seen to grow in scope in the public’s eye as additional scientific evidence of climate change comes forward.  Additional, unforseen consequences of climate change will come to the fore as well.  Madden and others are going to need to be nimble yet aggressive as they craft climate change policies.  I’m not sure how you write that into a description for any job.  But I’m glad Madden is doing it.

I have some additional commentary about this.  First, the article lists the salary of the position as $80,000 per year.  That figure generates some questions, but it isn’t terribly onerous.  At least, that’s what I though until I read the comments from the peanut gallery at the bottom of the page.  I get the feeling that a bunch of commenters are the long-lost ‘fiscal conservatives’ we heard so much about when President Clinton was in office.  They largely were unseen during the Bush years, but certainly make their presence known when Democrats are governing.  In this case, it’s almost laughable how obviously little of the article they read.  Not only did the article say the salary was $80,000, but that it “is funded through private grants from the Hewlett, Denver and Energy foundations.”  Yet the commenters, in their sad attempts to be meaningful, repeatedly take the stance of “OMG!!!1! What a freaking waste by Democrats!!!!1!  They don’t have any common sense.  Plus they’re messing stuff up and stuff.”  Her salary is being paid for by foundations, not the general fund.  All they saw was the number and they went into knee-jerk reaction-mode.  Sad.

My last comment comes in the form of a request to Gov. Bill Ritter, Alice Madden and anyone else responsible for enacting the goals of Colorado’s Climate Action Plan.  It needs some serious updating.  Right now.  It was a solid effort when it was originally constructed.  It serves as a decent guide now for our actions and solutions.  But it is already quite out of date.  Here are some of the goals outlined in the Plan:

• By 2020, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 2005 levels.
• By 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels.

These goals are outlined after this citation:

Our emissions in 2005 were 35 percent higher than in 1990 and under a business-as-usual scenario, are projected to grow to 81 percent above 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Why then are 2005 levels cited as the benchmarks?  I think the 2007 IPCC Reports are as much at fault as anything else.  And really, the “problem” is that reality failed to match what was in the Report.  Across the board, climate change signals have occurred faster and at higher magnitudes than the worst-cast scenario utilized in the Report.  The Report based most of its policy recommendations on a “moderate” scenario, which we’ve obviously already passed as well.  The temperature increases identified by the Report are therefore actually underestimates.

More specifically, emissions prior to 1990 led to concentrations that have since been identified as high enough to have deleterious effects on human society and global ecosystems.  In the intervening 15 years, concentrations by 2005 grew to levels that are clearly having unacceptable results.  Setting a goal of emission levels to 20% of 2005 levels doesn’t go far enough.  There is enough “heating in the pipeline” due to emissions between 1990 and 2005 to have drastic results on coastlines, ocean acidity and shifting climate zones.  Those 1990 levels would work as a much more realistic benchmark to set goals around.  80% below 2005 levels doesn’t get us to 1990 levels.  Even at that level, increased carbon and methane emissions from the ocean floor and tundra regions of the globe are expected to occur.  Put quite simply, 350ppm is the benchmark that needs to be used.  Specific emission reductions necessary to achieve that concentration will follow.  But to get there, much more aggressive actions must be started – in many cases sooner than many, including myself, thought even two short years ago.

The Action Plan is identified as a living document.  Despite the language used in that section, we cannot and do not need to wait for more advanced technologies to come to market.  Sufficient technologies exist today to address this issue, likely as aggressively as needs to be done.  The recession is not an excuse to wait to act either.  To the contrary, this is the perfect time to initate energy efficiency programs, mass transit programs, and renewable energy infrastructure.

I would also call for an updated analysis of Colorado’s emissions profile.  In the two years since the original document was distributed, how much have our emissions gone up?  That will give the Governor and Alice Madden a better idea of just what level of effort will be necessary to bring emissions back to and under 1990 levels.  The original goal was to bring down emissions from 118MMTCO2e to 94MMTCO2e by 2020.  How are we doing so far?

I know the Governor’s Energy Office has been very busy mapping where renewable energy resources can be developed, for instance.  Such a census hadn’t existed before.  Now a new transmission system needs to be installed to bring renewable energies from their sources to their customers.  Again, energy efficiency programs are the easiest solutions available.  Viable technologies exist today to significantly improve our efficiency.  They typically don’t cost too much (for a state government) either.

A lot of very pressing matters are facing the Governor and all Coloradans.  I think climate change tops that list.  Gov. Ritter has demonstrated an admirable level of action on climate change already.  I hope he and his colleagues take stock of the current state of the science and update their plans accordingly.  And congratulations to Alice Madden!

Cross-posted at SquareState.

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