When the “once-a-millennium” flood that hit Colorado in 2013 subsided, it took lives and wreaked devastation for weeks on our communities. The secondary destruction was heaviest around Castle Rock and Pueblo, the two cities in the state with the largest numbers of non-white communities. We as a community cared for the wealthy, white communities like Estes Park and Lyons where the devastation was the most costly, but didn’t at all consider what it means to be downstream in a non-white community. There was, and still, no urgency towards the needs of communities of color when climate disruption events occur, and that’s only one part of the oppressive nature of climate change.
Beyond floods, Coloradans experience unparalleled wildfires, drought and more. The communities that face hardship most often aren’t the stories we read about in the news. Pine beetle impacts on pine forests are an important story about climate change–but so is the tragedy of people who are forced to drink water contaminated by fracking byproducts, like those who were left out in the cold when the downstream flood waste from 1,300 fracking wells impacted their water supplies in 2013. We need to take a hard look at what we are fighting for and who we are leaving behind. Here and abroad, we as a global society have failed large swaths of Black, Brown and Indigenous community members and continue to by not considering and addressing the direct and acute impacts of climate disruption experienced “first and worst” by these communities.
In Paris at the COP21 this past December, governments slowly and methodically stripped away language addressing imperative issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples to their land. And, worse yet, an agreement emerged bereft of it enforceable, legally binding language or accountability measures. A similar scenario is occurring in Colorado right now with, for instance, the Supreme Court overruling people’s rights to regulate fracking within their communities. The oil and gas extraction industry are running amok in our governments and the gardens of our homes with impunity.
One of the Colorado climate movement’s central failures is that we have not addressed what strength looks like when fighting an onslaught of fossil fuel extraction activities that threaten lives. We haven’t made the connection here that when we declare ourselves as Strong (Colorado Strong, and so on) after a catastrophic climate disruption, we are in fact declaring ourselves as resilient to climate change. But, are we doing the work that makes us resilient? Are we building that resilience among the most vulnerable around us? Are we sharing resources and fostering a culture of diversity? And are we comprehending the notion that diversity is not simply a function of numbers, but also that of equally and mutually distributed power?
Mountain Strong individuals are on the front lines fighting fossil fuel extraction proactively and unequivocally. This fight is necessary because the lack of accountability for the harm the industry’s mess leaves behind is worth fighting for; we, especially communities of color, including Indigenous communities, are struggling for our lives and the right to maintain legacies that existed long before “nations” like the United States even existed. This fight steers us towards getting ourselves into a place like Germany where recently wind power created so much that they had to pay residents to power their homes and not the other way around. Being Mountain Strong means being focused on genuine, effective action and solutions to climate crises that arise and that starts with Colorado leading and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. And being Mountain Strong also means leading by listening, especially to the people, communities, and struggles that have existed and persevered long before the first environmental non-profit was pondered.
We have what it takes to stop the worst impacts of the climate crisis in our state, to protect Colorado homes and communities–particularly communities of color, and to be a national leader in solutions and innovation. We can meet this challenge. We can be Mountain Strong in a way that is inclusive, affable and fierce simultaneously. But for this to occur in a way that is efficacious we must allow for more seats at the table, and we must accept and burn into our collective consciousness that as long as the most vulnerable communities, people of color, especially women, rightfully believe that they are not only fighting the fossil fuel system but also the system that is supposed to be fighting that system, our movement will remain bifurcated, ineffective and a dream deferred.
Colorado Rising Tide is the Denver, CO chapter of Rising Tide North America. Rising Tide North America is an all-volunteer grassroots organizing in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico who confronts the root causes of climate change with protests and events. You can find out more about Colorado Rising Tide here.