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Denver Rallies for a Strong Climate Agreement in Paris

Around the country, thousands of people are taking to the streets to march in support of negotiations to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Thousands of miles away from Paris, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, the COP21 climate talks are much on the minds of Coloradans.

Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

World leaders are in Paris to engage in another round of climate negotiations. With scientists arguing this is a now-or-never moment, so much is at stake. The Paris talks are the world’s best opportunity to create an agreement that will make a real difference in reducing the worst impacts of climate change—while we still can.

Thousands of miles away, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Paris is much on the minds of Coloradans. Hundreds of us showed up on a snowy Sunday on the eve of the climate talks to participate in the Global Climate March.  

As I prepared to join the march, the words on my hand-made sign wrote themselves: “Consider Future Generations.” Like so many others, I view climate change as a moral issue, in which the quality of life for our children, and many generations to come, is at risk from this dangerous global phenomenon we all had a hand in creating.

My work at Earthjustice focuses my thoughts on climate change every day. I’m part of a team that is reviewing a Forest Service proposal to allow 170 million tons of coal to be mined on pristine federal roadless areas in western Colorado. The Forest Service admits that the plan will result in more than 130 million tons of carbon pollution from mining and burning the coal. 

Colorado Roadless Feature
Photos by the U.S. Forest Service give graphic evidence of underground coal mining's impacts on Colorado's forests. Read the feature story here.
U.S. Forest Service Photo

To add insult to injury, the proposal would pave the way for the mine operator to build 65 miles of road and scrape more than 400 drilling pads in roadless aspen, spruce and fir forests. The roads and pads are needed to vent methane—a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than CO2—from the coal seam. Under a court order Earthjustice won last year, the Forest Service has also disclosed that this project’s climate pollution will cause billions of dollars in damage to the global economy and the environment. Despite these costs, the Forest Service continues full steam ahead with its destructive proposal.

The contrast between the climate imperative of the Paris talks and the Obama administration’s plan to permit bulldozing roads for dirty, costly coal in our wild forests could not be more stark.

We know there’s a better way. I’m also working with Earthjustice attorneys across the country to promote clean, renewable sources of energy. A key part of that effort is advocating before public utility commissions to ensure that utility regulators in Colorado and Arizona even the playing field by requiring utilities to pay a fair share to solar customers who sell their power back to the electrical grid. I feel fortunate to be involved in efforts not only to reduce climate change, but also to push for solutions.

As I approached Denver’s City Park where the rally would be held, I thought I might find a few likeminded people who would join us in opposing the coal mine’s expansion. Ironically, after a year of record-breaking high temperatures and a balmy November, Denver was experiencing a painful cold snap on the day of the march. Would people rather be cozied up at home with their families enjoying the last day of the holiday than marching in the park in support of faraway climate negotiations? 

However, as I approached the park, I was swept along in a current of dozens of rally-goers carrying signs. When I reached the band shell at City Park, I was amazed to see that hundreds of people from all walks of life had turned out to urge our leaders to create a strong, binding agreement in Paris. Older marchers who seemed well acquainted with the 1960s-style call-and-response chanting mixed with young couples towing energetic children. 

Climate Rally Denver, Colo.
Climate rally-goers gather in Denver's City Park to show support a meaningful climate agreement at Paris' COP21 climate talks. Read the feature story here.
Geoff Sawtell/Full slideshow available here

The mood of the crowd was light and hopeful despite the serious cause, and we sang songs, chanted support for action in Paris and heard speeches from community members. It was easy to collect petition signatures from folks eager to voice opposition to the Forest Service’s proposal to open roadless lands to coal mining.

The climax of the rally came at the end when the group recorded a message to President Obama urging him to commit our country to 100 percent renewable sources of energy and to adequately resource the Green Climate Fund, which will help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. As we stood together recording our message, 500 strong, I hoped the leaders in Paris could feel the momentum from Denver and the energetic support from communities around the world whose futures hang in the balance. The outcome of these pivotal days in Paris could not be more important.

To add your voice to those opposed to increased coal mining and its devastating impacts on the climate and on Colorado’s roadless forests, submit your comments to the Forest Service here. The comment deadline is January 4, 2016.

The Road to Paris and Beyond is a blog series exploring how Earthjustice’s climate and energy work will help strengthen the goals to be set by the United States and others during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, and the development of the new global climate agreement. The Paris Climate Change Conference (aka “COP21”) begins on November 30 and runs until December 11, 2015.

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