Colorado has several comparative advantages that position us to combine a commitment to the preservation of our natural endowment; a commitment to the preservation, refinement, and expansion of the pleasant lifestyle that many enjoy in our beautiful state; a commitment to contributing to the development of the New Energy Economy (an inevitable component of future global economic development); and a commitment to fostering the most robust, sustainable, and equitable state economy, and most proactive, efficient, and effective state government possible.

Our natural endowment, particularly our spectacular mountains, are an economic asset both directly, in the tourism industry, and indirectly, as an attractor for investment capital by those who want to locate small start-ups, particularly in high-value-added information-intensive economic sectors, in the most attractive locations possible (since such sectors have no geographic constraints). And, of course, many Coloradans treasure our natural beauty for its inherent, aesthetic and recreational value, considering it to be one of our greatest assets, even independently of economic considerations.

For these reasons, we need to place a very high emphasis on the preservation of this endowment, carefully regulating other industries and practices (such as mineral extraction) that pose a threat both to the environment, and to public health and safety. Fortunately, despite erroneous ideological assertions to the contrary, mineral extraction, as an economic enterprise, is not highly sensitive to regulations or severance taxes, since there is very little flexibility in where minerals can be extracted (they must be extracted where they are found). Furthermore, since extracted minerals are sold in national and international markets, the increased costs of state regulations and taxes have only a marginal effect on market prices. In other words, the benefits occur within the state while the costs are distributed all over the world. For these reasons, sound policy requires that mineral extraction be a well-regulated and taxed enterprise.

Not only is Colorado rich in minerals, but it is also rich in sun and wind and the researchers and institutions doing the most to tap the energy contained in them. The future can rarely be predicted with confidense, but one thing that is virtually certain is that clean, renewable energy technologies are a growth industry, and will be enormous economic engines in the not too distant future. Foresight pays off in the long run. Investing in the New Energy Economy today, despite the modest size of that economc sector at present, and regardless of short term ups and downs in the market for “green energy”, is sound economic policy, and a smart move for the state of Colorado.

Our natural endowment is part of our pleasant lifestyle, with hiking trails, ski runs, rocks to climb and mountain rivers to float down, and spectacular vistas to appeal to all who enjoy nature’s wonders. But the Colorado lifestyle extends into our cities and suburbs as well, with excellent cycling opportunities, beautiful pedestrian malls, open spaces, and an increasing investment in the combination of excellent public transportation and sustainable, localized, aesthetically pleasing urban development. Continuing in this direction not only provides Coloradans with the benefits of all of these public goods, but also attracts the entrepreneurial capital of precisely those kinds of small start-ups that can create the most robust state economy possible. We live in a world in which the most information-intensive industries (e.g., computer software, and cutting edge technologies) create the greatest number of high-paying jobs, and contribute the most to the local and global economy. And such start-ups in such industries locate in places that provide the combination of natural beauty, pleasant life-style, and infrastructural investment that Colorado can provide, if we pursue wise policies.

But to attract such investment capital, and the young professionals and their families that bring it, we need to provide, competitively, what they are looking for: A well-developed human and material infrastructure on which they can depend, and the assurance of the availability of excellent and affordable public and higher education institutions for their children. We are currently, disgracefully, near the bottom of the country in investment in both public and higher education, and that is a very powerful disincentive to small information-intensive start-ups to locate here. More importantly, it is a moral failure on the part of the people of Colorado. As much of a cliche as it may be, our children are indeed our future, and failing to invest in them, to provide them with the best education possible, simply because an alliance of popular economic platitudes and well-funded corporate interests have displaced economic analyses, is a choice that can end up crippling and impoverishing this state, when nature has endowed us with such soaring opportunity.

There is a clear path forward for Colorado, a coherent strategy that preserves our natural endowment, fuels our economy, and secures a high quality of life for our residents. We need now to make sure that we elect the people, and cultivate the public commitment, to realize this vision, and create a more prosperous, sustainable, and opportunity-rich future for all Coloradans.

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The challenges and opportunities posed to humanity by our dependence upon, and articulation with, the natural environment are immense, urgent, and of enduring consequence. The set of interrelated issues involving energy, natural resources, environmental contamination and climate change, and their impacts on the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and even the lithosphere, as well as on human political, economic, demographic, and cultural systems, are complex, intertwined, and systemic.

I’d like to start a far-ranging and detail-laden discussion here concerning these issues and system dynamics, exploring how human actions alter the systems in which we are ensconced, and thus alter the context of our own existence. The rapid deforestation and desertification of the world not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, which in turn increases the frequency and ferocity of forest fires, increasing the deforestation which increases global warming, in an accelerating feed-back loop; it also eliminates rich repositories of biodiversity, at enormous costs to humanity and to the natural world. Our dependence on fossil fuels, also contributing to global warming, contributes as well to volatile and dysfunctional relations among nations and cultures, forcing petroleum dependent developed and developing nations to pander to the sometimes tyrannical and violence-exporting regimes of oil-rich countries.

Considering just global climate change, both well-known aspects (e.g., rising sea levels as a result of global warming, and the threat that poses to low-lying coastal areas), and less well known aspects (e.g., feedback loops such as those involving the albedo effect through decreasing ice caps reflecting less heat into space, thus causing accelerated global warming; and potentially catastrophic chain-reaction effects, such as those involving disrupted marine food chains due to decreased protophytoplankton production), the breadth and complexity of interacting systemic dynamics demand more from us than the superficial and barely informed popular concern and denial that dominate popular discourse on the topic.

In addition to the immense body of systemic theory, empirical observation, and informed speculation concerning how our actions impact our natural context, and how the resulting changes in our natural context impact our existence in return, there is the entire subset of thought and action regarding our actual and potential responses to this reality. The New Energy Economy, focusing on more extensive use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and the technical problems of storage and transmission involved, provides a basis for discussion. Within that framework, specific policy issues, such as the efficacy of cap-and-trade carbon markets, or carbon taxes, or taxes and subsidies more generally, come into play. The history of these efforts, including the intense international negotiations culminating in the tentatively promising Kyoto Protocol and disappointing Copenhagen Accord which followed, and current possibilities, such as more decentralized interconnected carbon markets, belong in the conversation.

As always, I invite any and all to participate, hopefully bringing some combination of expertly informed knowledge and insight, on the one hand, and popular perception and curiosity on the other.

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