Catching up with former guv, who is powering forward
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.‘s “Powering Forward: What Everyone Should Know About America’s Energy Revolution” advocates for more rapid adoption of clean energy.
He writes that “a global crisis is looming on the horizon and the United States not only can but must take the lead in addressing it.”
Ritter, the state’s 41st governor, served from 2007–2011. He is founder and director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and lives in Denver.
Laurena Mayne Davis: Who should read your book?
Bill Ritter Jr.: The subtitle says “What Everyone Should Know About America’s Energy Revolution,” so perhaps everyone should. (Joke). I would encourage people who are curious about the critical link between climate change and energy systems to read it. It also can serve as a resource for students interested in environmental science, energy policy and climate science.
Davis: You write, “We saw trouble coming long ago but we did virtually nothing to stop it,” pinpointing 1970 as the year the United States began relying on imported oil to meet its increased fossil fuel consumption. If you could get in a time machine back to 1970, what would you have the country do differently?
Ritter: It has been 46 years since 1970. We did not and could not have made the transition from fossil fuels all at once, but we should have begun much earlier than we have.
We should have invested heavily in research and development for low-carbon transportation technologies, including electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, cleaner-burning natural gas vehicles, and any number of low-carbon biofuels.
We made progress in the late ‘70s developing alternatives to coal-fired generation, but we lost our momentum in the ‘80s and ‘90s, losing literally two decades during which we could have been developing the technologies to power our electricity sector in a cleaner way.
Davis: Getting the populace to endorse difficult, immediate changes requires a long worldview when short-term solutions are more politically palatable. What’s the key to gaining support?
Ritter: Listen carefully to those who disagree with you. Listen authentically to them. Try to find places where there are shared values, shared beliefs, and then work from there for common ground. But listening well is fundamental.
Davis: What’s your most-convincing elevator speech to persuade skeptics that climate change is real?
Ritter: In Colorado: 4 million acres of dead pine trees caused by the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle. Every forester and climate scientist I have ever met agree that longer warm periods have caused the pine beetle to now have two life cycles in a year, and drought has made trees more vulnerable. Those scientists would say, simply, climate change is the root cause.
Davis: Western Colorado’s economy historically has been subject to extraction booms and busts, and still has not recovered from the 2008 recession, while the eastern side of the state’s economy has not only rebounded but grown.
What can be done with extraction and with infrastructure to assure the western half of Colorado can share in the state’s economic success?
Ritter: I believe that this is one of the most difficult issues we face as a country and as a state as we make the transition to a low-carbon economy.
So many communities in America, including communities on the Western Slope, have invested heavily in the future of fossil fuels. The recent demise of the coal industry has come about, not because of changing policies or stricter regulations, but in large part because of the cheap price of natural gas over the past several years.
While there is still a steady market for oil and gas, the abundance of supply and the transition to cleaner fuels are having some impact on those economies.
How do we help those communities that are in the throes of the “bust” cycle, and not recovering any time soon? We have to let them be part of the solution, planning as a community for their future.
The state and federal government can assist to some extent in making resources available for workforce training, but that is easier said than done. Entire generations of families have labored in our coal mines in Colorado and they don’t want to give that livelihood up any time soon.
In a way, I don’t blame them. So, those families and those communities must decide what their future will be, as a community, and with a vision toward the changing times.
Davis: Who is going to get your vote for president and why?
Ritter: I have supported Secretary Clinton for the past year. I believe she will eventually be the Democratic Party’s nominee, and I will vote for her. With Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, the choice is clear for me.
Secretary Clinton has a thoughtful plan for moving America forward involving a number of important domestic and international issues and she has the leadership qualities that will allow her to do just that.
As someone who spent 16 years in elective office, I am stunned by Trump’s rhetoric on an almost daily basis.
Davis: Have you considered running for office again?
Davis: Any plans for Western Slope book-signing?
Ritter: I would appreciate the opportunity to do a Western Slope book-signing.