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Meltzner: Climate change is hurting Colorado’s outdoor industry

Graphic illustration depicting the earth within a glass greenhouse (centered) with the words "Climate Column" over the top and two pieces of greenery to the left and right.
Climate Column (Graphic Illustration by Abby Flitton | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Between the rampant forest fires and record-breaking temperatures that have plagued Colorado for the past several years, it’s impossible to ignore the impact climate change has had on our state. The negative impacts of climate change are quickly bleeding into Colorado’s economy.

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Colorado historically has a culture of spending time in nature. When people visit Colorado, they come to partake in these activities and enjoy the unique experiences in nature that only this state can offer. Colorado’s ski resorts are a major example of this, but we also tout great fishing, hiking, boating and other activities as major reasons for visitors to travel here.

Colorado’s outdoor industry is not only a huge part of the state’s culture but also a huge part of our economy. 

The outdoors industry has supported our economy quite well, but due to the recent effects of climate change, the industry is taking major hits.

The rivers that used to be lined with fishermen are seeing restrictions due to low water levels and warm temperatures. Lakes that were filled with boats every weekend are now silent because of the low water levels grounding boats in the marinas. Colorado retailers have even seen a decrease in insulated winter jacket sales due to winters getting shorter and warmer.

According to the Colorado Wildlife Council, fishing alone contributes $2.45 billion a year to Colorado’s economy, which makes climate change a very serious economic issue. Beyond the negative impacts that climate change has unleashed on our environment, it is now threatening both our economy as well as our culture as a state. Both citizens and members of the outdoor industry must step up — and quickly.

Our state is not only economically dependent on the outdoors but also culturally dependent.” 

Russ Schumacher is the Colorado State climatologist, director of the Colorado Climate Center and an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Schumacher said the biggest impact on Colorado, specifically, is droughts hurting the water supply. He acknowledged that droughts in this region are nothing new in the big picture, but climate change was “changing (from) moderate to extreme,” and the droughts are far more impactful now due to their severity. 

Discussing how these factors are also affecting the outdoor industry, Schumacher identified Colorado’s worsening air quality due to forest fires as something that could have a large impact. He said it’s possible the air quality could also be affecting how often people engage in outdoor activities because they are now more aware of it than ever, even “checking their phones to see the air quality index before they go out.” 

What can be done about this? Schumacher said that, in his opinion, renewable energy and the push to use eco-friendly power sources are some of the most important things companies can do in their business models to make a difference in the fight against climate change. 

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Schumacher also discussed how Colorado’s outdoor industry could avoid a serious decline in the coming years and said adaptability to climate change was essential. Using the example of Colorado ski resorts combating low snowpack, Schumacher explained how “resorts got ahead of climate change (by introducing) snowmaking.”

The relationship between nature and the outdoor industry is a symbiotic one, both giving to each other, and right now the attack on one is bleeding into the other in a way we’ve never seen.”

Schumacher explained how, even with all of these climate change factors impacting our state, “We are not resigned to the worst-case scenario.” Instead, it depends on us to make changes and strive to leave a smaller footprint.

Our state is not only economically dependent on the outdoors but also culturally dependent, and if years of climate change and reports detailing its effects have not made enough of an impression to spur change, I hope this does. 

The relationship between nature and the outdoor industry is a symbiotic one, both giving to each other, and right now the attack on one is bleeding into the other in a way we’ve never seen. So please recognize this and make a change — before it’s too late.

JD Meltzner can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jd_meltzner.

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