There was a time, not so long ago, when “we had to be careful of saying the phrase ‘climate change,’” Kellie Falbo says. The founder and executive director of the Fort Collins–based Sustainable Living Association explains, however, that those days are mostly behind us. “Just looking at this past year’s fires in Colorado as an example,” Falbo says, “people understand that it’s not normal. Knowing that Coloradans get it, how do we help them shift their behaviors toward what we call sustainability?”
Popularized in the late 1980s, “sustainability” is a buzzword with staying power. In the simplest terms, it means balancing human needs with the health of the natural environment. Most climatologists agree the increase in global temperature, the decrease in ice sheets, the rise in sea levels, and the increased frequency and ferocity of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and drought clearly illustrate that humans are not living in harmony with their surroundings. It is, in short, Dr. Seuss’ tale of The Lorax brought to life—and on a global scale.
The enormity of the problem can understandably spur shrugs of indifference. After all, it can be difficult to see how Coloradans’ daily habits could possibly lead to noticeable progress on climate change, no matter how many plastic straws they eschew. Elizabeth Babcock understands. As a manager at the city of Denver’s newly created Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, Babcock says individual actions are critical to sustainable living, but also believes systemic change is the real key to saving the planet. “People want to do the right thing,” Babcock says. “But it’s not always about a choice. Sometimes there’s not easy access to public transit. Sometimes the sustainable option is too expensive. Asking people to make everyday changes is important, but one of the most impactful things they can do is support policy decisions that make it easier for everyone to make sustainable choices.”
In just the past several years, the passage of landmark climate change legislation (see: the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution) and several voter-approved initiatives (see: Denver Green Roof Initiative 300 and Denver Ballot Measure 2A) suggest Colorado has reached an inflection point. People like Falbo say we need to harness the momentum to force a big push—in renewable energy production, transportation, and waste—in order to do our part to keep the planet at a livable, thrivable temperature. Make no mistake, though: It will take a next-level effort by the state, municipalities, businesses, nonprofits, public utilities, and, yes, you to deliver the measurable change our state and ultimately our planet need.