Just two weeks after I began my job at Environment Colorado I embarked on an epic journey across Colorado. With posters in the trunk and enough clipboards to supply a small army of volunteers, I traveled to seven cities in eight days from Fort Collins, to Glenwood Springs to Pueblo and many points in between.
It was National Drive Electric week, and as the Clean Cars Campaign organizer, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to attend ride and drive events and connect with electric vehicle enthusiasts. With just nine weeks until the Air Quality Control Commission votes on the adoption of low emission vehicle standards (on November 15th), I knew this was my chance to build a network of support for clean car standards throughout our state.
I chatted with countless Coloradans about the environmental, economic, and public health benefits of electric and low emission vehicles. And after taking a test drive in my first Tesla, I discovered that EVs are essentially spaceships (okay, maybe that’s a small exaggeration) and can be enjoyed by consumers with the highest standards.
The best part of my trip was learning the variety of reasons Coloradans transition to low or zero emission vehicles. I connected with a woman in Golden who suffers from a chronic lung illness and increased sensitivity to dirty air. Due to potent and pervasive air pollution from our transportation system, she was forced to relocate from Denver to Golden. She described the decision to purchase an electric vehicle as common sense. Why would she drive a car that contributes to public health problems in her own community?
In Colorado Springs, I met a man who was mobilized into action after hurricane Katrina took the lives of his parents. He knew that this catastrophic disaster was exacerbated by climate change and subsequently, his personal consumption of fossil fuels. He immediately began the transition to a carbon neutral lifestyle. By driving an electric vehicle fueled by solar panels, he finds peace in doing his part to prevent further tragedy and combat climate change.
Although most community members I connected with were aware of Colorado’s air pollution problem, citing lack of visibility in urban centers or hazy days in the summer months from nearby wildfires, few people realized just how bad the air in Colorado can be.
According to the American Lung Association, Denver and Fort Collins rank 14th and 19th respectively for cities with the most polluted air. This year the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reported 52 ozone alert days across the state. These dirty air days not only prohibit common Colorado activities like hiking and biking, but also threaten already vulnerable populations like the 343,000 Coloradans living with asthma.
What I found to be consistent throughout the communities I visited was that Coloradans care deeply about our open spaces and have a passion for exploring the many wonders our state has to offer. Residents from Colorado Springs to Glenwood Springs all agreed that the cars we drive should not destroy the places we love.