Published in the Colorado Sun on February 11th, 2023

The next mayor of Denver must have a heart that longs to keep all of Denver safe from the effects of the changed and changing climate. The next mayor of Denver must have the skill to lead the city to make Denver a world leader in dealing with the changed and changing climate.

The next mayor must clearly prioritize the transition away from burning fossil fuels with initiatives — both established and new — that lead the residents of Denver toward cleaner air, safer indoor spaces, and the new sustainable economic future.

Knowing that racial justice and climate justice are tied together, the next mayor must see that the city must aid those who cannot afford the steps that must be taken to stop burning fossil fuels. More difficult, the next mayor must find ways to persuade those who can afford the steps that must be taken, to take them.

Whatever other good priorities the next mayor has, he or she and the city will face the consequences of our burning fossil fuels: smoke, more heat, ozone, drought, dying forests, erratic weather, potential shortages, and climate refugees.

When new housing is built to help solve our housing crisis . . .

When considering how to help cars, bikes, and pedestrians share the roads . . . 

When trash is collected . . .

When the police do their work, and we strive for justice . . .

When the firefighters do their work . . .

When the city purchases equipment, when it buys its vehicles, when it heats and cools its buildings . . .

When the recreation centers open their doors . . .

When the planes take off from DIA . . .

. . . the mayor must direct the city to do these things in ways that protect Denver from the consequences of the changed and changing climate.

Over the course of 12 years, by 2035, the mayor will know if he or she succeeds if Denver as a whole powers itself by 90% renewable energy.

But which of the many candidates for mayor will care for the health of the city the best? Here are some questions to ask at the forums and debates with the candidates.

These questions are listed in degree of difficulty to show knowledge and commitment to addressing the climate crisis in a just way. The first question is the hardest to answer and the most concrete for city-wide action. The last question might be interpreted as a softball. But if you get a chance to ask all three, they do outline the areas where we Denverites must push on a mayor over the next twelve years.

Q: Do you support the recommendations of Denver’s 2020 Climate Action Task Force and how will you fund the hundreds of millions of dollars it calls to raise?

Acceptable answers will range from a basic familiarity with the Climate Action Task Force; to a basic familiarity with the office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency and a clear prioritization of the climate problem; to a detailed knowledge of both the task force and the climate action office; to a clear prioritization of the climate crisis and a plan for getting Denver to its stated goal of 65% renewable by 2030 (or a similar plan), with paths that raise up those who have suffered environmental injustice.

Where will Denver get the money? What part must come from the city? As for the rest, how would the candidate put together  public-private partnerships? How would he or she obtain state and federal funding? How do we electrify environmental justice homes and businesses, and work with landlords? Has the candidate given this serious consideration?

The candidate should be talking in the range of $160 million to $240 million a year through 2035.

Q: What opportunities present themselves with the renewal of the Xcel Franchise agreement in 2026?

Acceptable answers acknowledge that the renewal does present opportunities to get Xcel to support more rooftop solar with batteries, community solar, and to rapidly move its transition to renewable technologies.

Q: How would you as the mayor help create a city-wide culture that will lead to accomplishing the 100% carbon neutral goal in 2040?

The answer to this question will tell a lot about the style of the candidate. Bringing a whole city along such a transition is the job of a good politician. Being unnecessarily divisive doesn’t help, being skillfully courageous does help.

Potentially, the next mayor of Denver will have 12 years to achieve his or her goals. The Denver mayor has limited but powerful tools at his or her disposal. Some of those tools can indeed effect substantial change; others are tools of persuasion. The next mayor needs to build a city-wide culture that looks forward to the new electrified economy.

To do this, the new mayor must establish world-leading goals and a path to meet those goals. A world-leading goal is necessary because the world needs leadership to achieve its necessary reductions. Simply being average in a world of below-average responses does not solve the climate crisis. The goal of being 90% fossil fuel free by 2035 is adequate.

Denver is ready to lead. Leading the world means that we show how American people can live their lifestyles more justly while not over-heating the planet.

These goals cannot be simply hidden within the city government but must be broadly shared by both businesses and the public. There are many allies within Denver and a wide-spread acceptance among Denverites that the climate crisis deserves to be addressed in substantial ways. Setting a path forward will have its difficulties but is doable. We need a mayor who will lead us in solving the climate crisis.

Jeff Neuman-Lee, of Denver, is Legislative Team co-chair for Together Colorado‘s Climate Justice Committee.