*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on February 10, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.
We’re driving from Manitou towards downtown on Highway 24. I’m behind the wheel, with my 7-year old behind me on my right and my 4-year old in the seat directly to my rear. It’s a Saturday, so we’re chit-chatting like we normally do on our way to our weekly grocery store visit.
As we get closer to the intersection with I-25, to turn north, my younger daughter must have looked out to see the white smoke billowing out of the Martin Drake Power Plant and she said, “Daddy, that smoke is bad for the air.” It’s a sentiment my older daughter echoed recently while playing at America the Beautiful Park.
Their little voices carry powerful arguments that’ve greatly shaped my views on this issue—and they should impact yours as well. I’m not prone to hysteria, and I’d consider myself fairly measured in my approach to most matters. But on this one I’m decidedly resolute: Martin Drake has got to go. And fast.
Two forces work on my mind here. The first is the simple concept that seeing is believing and the pollution at Martin Drake is so obvious that even a child can see it and understand its harm. You simply cannot pour that much smog into the sky without an impact.
That’s not the unfair assessment of an overzealous tree-hugger. It’s the fair analysis of an unbiased (nearly blank slate) child.
Skeptics will scoff at the environmental cred of a combustion-engine-car-driving family, and they’d be right. They’d point out the hypocrisy of selectively overlooking the impact of our own car’s tailpipe emissions on the trip I’ve just described. Guilty as charged.
But the scales are nowhere near the same. Martin Drake compared to a single tailpipe is at least a hundred Goliaths to a hundredth of a David. And, to be frank, we don’t have the financial ability to make that change yet (which is why we appreciate, all the more, those that make the investment in electric vehicles that benefit us all).
But Drake is different. It is within the capability of this community to fix on an accelerated time table. Not just for health or safety, but for economic reasons. Coal is no longer economically competitive, and better options are within reach.
And while some misinformed souls still stubbornly cling to the notion that human activity hasn’t caused the shift in climate, the mass and majority of us with eyes and brains very well know that coal plants like Martin Drake certainly contribute to it.
This week, NASA scientists declared 2018 the fourth hottest year in recorded climate history, and reminded the public that the five warmest years have been the last five (in the nearly 140 years it’s been measured). Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recently said, “We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future. It’s here. It’s now.”
Especially in the Pikes Peak region and Colorado. In 2018, Colorado Springs was 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the thirty year average (measured from 1980 to 2010, according to data calculated by Accuweather and collected by the National Weather Service). And a University of Arizona study of the Rocky Mountains found that our average snow season has dropped 23 days over the past 30 years (from 192 to 169 days). Not to mention the hotter, drier summers that likely mean California’s fiery present may just lurk in Colorado’s near future.
This is the second area my children impact my thinking. Until they come of age, we adults are the custodians of their future. What we do matters much to them. They won’t vote for years but will live for decades with the dark, smoky shadows of our choices. Now that I’m a parent I see that so much more clearly, even though the smog.
I look forward to the day in the not-so-distant future when we repeat that same grocery-getting trip and see nothing but beautiful blue Colorado sky (maybe even while riding in a vehicle that emits no emissions).
Close Martin Drake quickly. Our kids deserve this vision. So do we—if we have the will to see it happen.