by Dani Cooke
There is no denying that climate change is a real, human-caused, and terrifyingly urgent issue for our planet. (Just refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ Climate Change Summit, the National Climate Assessment, or any number of scientific and governmental analyses addressing our changing climate.) Significant change is needed—on the personal, corporate, legislative, and global levels—to combat the dangers of this problem. Still, climate change deniers run rampant, willfully blind to the future we’ve created for ourselves.
But the side of environmental activists is not immune to such blindness. Attendees of the Boulder chapter of March 15th’s Climate Strike, a national movement for students advocating for the creation of policies to address and reverse the dangers of climate change, are bound to remember the repeated mention of a Senate Bill 181. The event’s speakers—a combination of determined high school students, Earth Guardians, elementary-school activists, and concerned parents—urged attendees to vote “Yes” on this bill when they see it on their ballots. However, not once during the rally was it explained what the bill entailed.
As published on the Colorado General Assembly website, this bill
Section 3 of the bill addresses the control and monitoring of air quality and hydrocarbon emissions through review and reparation of leak detection practices. Section 4 clarifies the authority of local governments to regulate the oil and gas industry as well as impose fines, fees, and additional reviews relevant to the industry. Section 5 repeals an exemption for oil and gas production from counties’ authority to regulate noise. The bill contains twenty sections and is currently being worked on the floor of the State Senate.
The concerning nature of the Climate Strike’s promotion of SB-181 extends far beyond the contents of the bill, however, which contains a controversial mixture of environmental regulations with both positive and negative implications. Rather, it illustrates a mentality often found in activist circles, one to which I have fallen victim many times throughout my life: blind trust the activist with the loudest voice—or, at least, the one with the megaphone. Overly sensitive to the desire for political correctness, to the self-awareness which demands the constant concession that they know better, we trust the words spoken by more experienced activists and decide that, if we disagree, this must mean we haven’t yet shed the prejudices instilled in us by our privilege.
SB-181 however, is not about political correctness nor privilege. It is also not without its flaws—some of which are deeply concerning and merit careful analysis. (I highly recommend the succinct and very well-written article, “Give SB 181 the Careful Consideration it Deserves” from The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction’s local newspaper, here, for one take on these concerns.) The most obvious negative consequences of this bill are the loss of state revenue and thousands of industry jobs that would result from limiting the oil and gas industries in Colorado. Some people also express concern about the fast-tracked and “hasty” nature of the bill, which many view as “ill-considered” and destabilizing to both sides of the fossil fuel debate.
Other aspects of the bill—including increased monitoring of hydrocarbon emissions and greater transparency regarding leak protection practices—would likely have very positive implications.
The implications of this discussion go well beyond simply SB-181. When deciding how to vote (on a bill or a candidate), take the time to do the necessary research. Learn enough different opinions that you feel informed enough to develop your own. Voting is crucial to the functioning of a democratic society—but it only works when supported by an informed populous. The debate surrounding SB-181 provides one striking example of this necessity.