This is a cautionary tale, written as I try to figure out how to construct the “safe room” that state officials now say I need to build for me and my family. And this cautionary tale is not just about one state or one election — it is about our democracy, our head-in-the-sand political establishment, and most important, about whether or not we have the ability to listen and to change as our survival is threatened.
This tale begins late last year, when Senate Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff released a longform ad warning that if we don’t take climate change seriously, we are facing an apocalyptic crisis in the “not so distant future.” The ad depicted a dystopia of Coloradans trapped in their homes, unable to go outside because of scorching temperatures and poisonous air.
A proponent of a Green New Deal, Romanoff was quickly mocked by the political establishment — the local media opted to vapidly focus on whether it was a good tactic and “good politics,” rather than consider its merits. Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner suggested that Romanoff, a former House Speaker, had gone “insane” — a charge amplified by the local press. The GOP in Washington called the ad “fear-mongering” and derided Romanoff’s “unabashed support for the Green New Deal and other progressive policies."
The message from the entire political class was clear and resounding: Romanoff was ridiculed for not being politically savvy and for supposedly making a climate argument that was too hyperbolic and unrealistic. He was soon berated by Democrats like Gov. Jared Polis for spotlighting his opponent’s ties to the oil and gas industry. Few major progressive groups — other than the Sunrise Movement — worked to try to win this state for a climate champion. National Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren parachuted in to help crush the primary challenge, spend Romanoff into the ground, and secure the Democratic Senate nomination for one of the most pro-fossil-fuel candidates in Democratic politics.
A mere nine months later, the climate dystopia that Romanoff warned of — and that he was berated for sounding an alarm about — is now the lived reality in Colorado.
This morning, all of us here in Denver woke up to warnings telling us not to go out of our homes and to set up “safe rooms” in our homes. We are being told that this is necessary because near-100-degree temperatures mixed smoke from wildfires and ozone pollution make it unsafe for anyone to be outside.
As Romanoff’s ad suggested, all of it has a link to climate — the heat is from a climate-intensified summer; the wildfires are intensified by the climate situation; and ozone pollution is linked to the burning of and drilling for fossil fuels.
For days, the sun has been blocked out by smoke. My kids quite literally miss the sunshine — exactly as Romanoff’s ad said they would.
“This is happening across the West, and people in those sensitive categories should be staying inside. Even for healthy and fit people, we recommend staying inside during peak conditions because of the effects this can have on your respiratory and cardio systems, especially pregnant mothers and children,” John Putnam, the health department’s environmental programs director, told the Denver Post today.
Despite this emergency — and the warnings during the primary — this blue state’s political class continues to effectively laugh at the emergency unfolding right before our eyes.
Polis’s oil and gas regulators have approved more than 1,000 new drilling permits — and this week they shut down scientists’ scheduled presentation about the public health dangers of expanded fracking and drilling. The governor’s regulators are also dragging their feet on taking the most minimal steps to reduce the poisonous air blanketing the region. Meanwhile, our Republican incumbent senator is running as an unambiguous promoter of the kind of unbridled fossil fuel development that was unleashed by his Democratic Senate opponent, who is better than a Republican but who continues to oppose a Green New Deal.
In short, the political establishment of this bellwether state — whose voters so overwhelmingly voted out Republicans two years ago — not only scoffs at truth-telling candidates in its midst, it categorically refuses to meet this moment of crisis, if doing so requires even gently challenging the status quo or angering the corporate interests that own our democracy.
This isn’t only about Romanoff or one Senate primary, and it’s not about the upcoming general election, in which the only hope for even minimal change is for Republicans to be removed from power. This also is not just about the corrupt politics of the kind of intermountain “flyover” state that is always ignored by a national media that exclusively covers the Acela Corridor and nothing else.
This is a larger, universal parable — because no matter where you are reading this from, there’s almost certainly stories like this that has happened in your community. After all, if this kind of head-in-the-sand, nah-nah-nah-can’t-hear-you attitude toward the climate crisis is happening in a blue state like Colorado, then it is happening everywhere.
No matter where you look, this emergency is becoming very real, very fast — and the people warning about it and demanding real action are still getting berated, laughed at and mocked. We have a Republican Party that portrays climate change as a hoax, and a Democratic Party dominated by a corporate wing that doesn’t take the emergency seriously.
Indeed, late last week, as fires ripped through California and as Iowa struggles to recover from an inland hurricane, President Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel went on national television demanding that a prospective Biden administration make clear from the beginning that it will block a Green New Deal. Just a few days earlier, the Democratic National Committee’s platform was changed to eliminate a modest non-binding request to end fossil fuel subsidies that are fueling the climate emergency.
What is it going to take to get us to listen and to act? How much worse do things have to become?
These are the questions that Romanoff’s ad evoked in me when I first saw it — and when I watched him get berated.
They are the questions I now obsess over on as I now try to figure out how to build a “safe room” and struggle to help my first-grader and fourth grader log on to Zoom for their next remote-learning class, because they can’t go to school.
We are all trapped right now — but we don’t need to accept climate annihilation as our long-term future.
We are told by our media and our culture to lobotomize ourselves and put our heads in the sand — but we don’t have to.
We are choosing to allow our political leadership to create this horrible future — but we can make a different choice.
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