Research & Commentary: New Heartland Brief Shows Climate Change is Not Straining Budgets of Colorado Towns

Published November 24, 2020

A new Heartland Institute Policy Brief authored by Heartland President James Taylor debunks a number of incorrect assertions made by the Colorado Sun about the negative effect climate change is having on the budgets of towns and municipalities across the Centennial State.

The Sun article, published November 4, asserts that climate change is the primary cause of an increase in drought and wildfires across the state, as well as an uptick in avalanches. The costs in dealing with these phenomena, the article argues, is pushing local government budgets to the limits and leaving towns scrambling to adjust. Taylor, however, provides evidence showing that climate change is not increasing the severity and frequency of the aforementioned weather events.

In No, Climate Change Is Not ‘Straining Budgets’ in Colorado Towns, Taylor provides data showing that while Colorado is experiencing a period of below-average rainfall for the last few years, the “severity and duration of the current conditions are not unusual,” and that more severe drought conditions have happened many times in the state during the first half of the twentieth century. Further, while the Sun article shows a 13-20 percent reduction in streamflow across Colorado since the beginning of this century, Taylor argues this is more likely due to population growth than climate change.

“Scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) have confirmed the causal relationship between Colorado’s population growth and reduced streamflow,” Taylor notes. “As CSU scientists at the Colorado Water Center note, ‘Much of the state’s water history has been shaped by population growth. In particular, a tenfold increase in residents from 1900 to 2010 … was paralleled by a similar increase in competition and demand for the water in Colorado’s nine major watersheds and four major aquifers.'”

“Further,” Taylor continues, “even if recent Colorado droughts were usually severe, it would still be improper to place the blame on climate change. The [United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)] reports with ‘high confidence’ that precipitation has increased over mid-latitude land areas of the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States, during the past 70 years. IPCC also has ‘low confidence’ there are any negative trends globally related to drought.”

The Sun article proceeds to directly connect an increase in wildfire severity in Colorado to these drought conditions. However, Taylor argues, “U.S. wildfires in recent decades have been far less frequent and severe than they were during the first half of the twentieth century. Moreover, NASA satellite data show a long-term decline in global wildfires. NASA satellites have measured a 25 percent decline in global lands burned since 2003. It defies all logic to blame an asserted uptick in wildfires in Colorado on global warming when wildfires throughout the world are becoming less frequent and extreme.”

Taylor also contends the avalanches occurring in the abnormal Spring 2019 cannot also be realistically tied to climate change, as the Sun article claims. The article declares these avalanches were triggered by “early October snow that created a weak layer” of underlying snow, followed by “a steady buildup of snow in mid-winter, followed by a series of heavy snow events in March.”

“Strangely, this argument by the Sun seems to contradict assertions typically made by climate activists,” Taylor notes, “who say that global warming is reducing the amount of winter snowpack, and thus making avalanches less likely. Further, a later onset of winter would make early-October snowfalls less likely. Based on climate activists’ own arguments, the very conditions the Sun claims caused the unusually severe Spring 2019 avalanche season will become less frequent as Earth modestly warms.”

“The writers and editors at The Colorado Sun may believe they have a moral obligation to promote climate action,” Taylor concludes, “but the claim that climate change is causing strains on local government budgets as a result of increasing drought, wildfires, and avalanches is thoroughly debunked by objective scientific facts, as this Policy Brief clearly shows.”

The following documents provide more information about climate change.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

The Importance of Affordable and Abundant Oil and Natural Gas for Colorado
This report from the Consumer Energy Alliance examined how the shale revolution across Colorado has provided benefits to Centennial State residents by boosting disposable income and revitalizing communities, saving residential users $4.3 billion, and commercial and industrial users $8 billion.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science
Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science, published in October 2013. It is the fourth in a series of scholarly reports produced by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an international network of climate scientists sponsored by three nonprofit organizations: the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, and The Heartland Institute. (Also see the “Summary for Policymakers” of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts
Released on April 9, 2014, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the impacts of climate change on plants, terrestrial animals, aquatic life, and human well-being. (Also see the “Summary for Policymakers” of  Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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