The drive from Denver International Airport to the “Mile High City” is one of the most visually stunning rides I’ve ever taken. Not only for the dramatic mountains rising up out of the plains below, but for the bitter irony revealed by a city amid the beauty of nature that is covered by a layer of thick, dark, smog.
The airport is situated at a slightly higher elevation than the city, meaning one glimpse the stunning blue mountains before one plunges into the brown haze. As my family took the drive to the city, I was baffled that a state so known for its appreciation of nature could also be home to a city with some of the worst air quality in the world.
In a 2019 study conducted by the American Lung Association, Denver ranked 12th worst for ozone pollution, aka smog, and 32nd worst for single-day increases in particle pollution, or soot. Ozone has been described as a “sun-burn for your lungs”, which can lead to severe coughing and asthma attacks. Although Denver’s many days of sunshine contributes to the high levels of ozone, particle pollution is dramatically increased by wildfires, motor vehicles, and wood-burning devices. Despite some natural causes of this poor air quality, much of the increases in recent years has been attributed to climate change.
According to TIME Magazine, “Warmer temperatures create conditions conducive to smog formation and lead air to stagnate”, trapping dirty air in the city. Wildfires, too, contribute to the high levels of particle pollution in the city. However, the cause of the pollution is not exclusively due to climate change. The Denver Department of Public Health and the Environment (DDPHE) has cited the increase in traffic and construction as contributing factors for pollution.
Although the DDPHE has taken steps to improve Denver’s air quality such as cutting back on bus idling, more improvement must yet be seen. Children, who are among the most susceptible to poor air quality, do not have time to wait on action, as their health for the rest of their lives relies on their ability to breath clean air.
And yet, even in a state riddled with pollution issues, evidence of environmental activism is everywhere. In an Ace hardware store in Boulder, I came across sticky notes made from recycled paper. While that may not seem like much, what struck me was that while the brand was familiar, I had never before seen the product on Massachusetts shelves. When consumers demand, suppliers listen.
Small steps may move the needle, and grassroots efforts are vital to battling climate change, but regulation of laws is needed to reverse issues of climate change on such a grand scale. However, instead of acting against damage that climate change perpetuates, the Trump administration has taken action to reduce the Clean Air Act and other environmental protection organizations. Without the cooperation of the national government, Coloradans may be forced to keep breathing dangerous levels of pollution.
So, the next time you have an opportunity to vote, take just one moment to consider the plight of the citizens of the “Mile High City” who are about a mile deep in trouble.