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With five days until the primary election, climate change is top of mind for Colorado voters

Colorado voter Beth Conrey stands in a bee suit with her bee colonies and boxes in the background. She is standing on a gravel road in front of a field. She is wearing sunglasses and is frowning at the camera.
Lucas Brady Woods
Colorado voter Beth Conrey takes off her bee suit after inspecting one of her honeybee colonies at her home outside of Berthoud on June 10, 2024. As an agriculture worker, she is already seeing climate change impact her livelihood and wants to see candidates base their policies on science.

A warm breeze rustled through clover flowers on an early June afternoon as Beth Conrey looked over her beehives from the porch of her modest honey-processing facility.

“If half of your cattle died, if half of your pigs died, if half of your chickens died–annually–people would pay attention to that,” Conrey said, the steady drone of honeybees in the background. “But they don't pay attention to what happens when half the bees die.”

Conrey has been a beekeeper outside of Berthoud for more than 30 years, and she has seen honey production dwindle to just a fraction of what it was when she started. She attributes the decline to the rise in pesticide use, monoculture crops and lawns, urban sprawl, water shortages and soil health. She now has to cultivate many different bee colonies up and down the Front Range to maintain her livelihood.

“Our livelihood depends on the environment,” Conrey said. “So we pay attention to it, like anybody engaged in ag is paying more attention to the weather and to forecasts and extreme weather events, et cetera.”

Now, with the Colorado primary election just a few days away, she wants to see candidates talking more about climate change, and not just because of the impacts on agriculture. She believes fixing basic environmental problems–like soil, vegetation and insect health–will help create solutions to the big issues like drought and air quality.

To do that, though, she said candidates need to base their policies on scientific evidence.

“Science is what it comes down to, and trying to actually follow the science,” Conrey said. “And there’s a lot of great science out there.”

Colorado voter and beekeeper Beth Conrey checks on one of her honeybee colonies on June 10, 2024. As an agriculture worker, she's already seeing climate change impact her livelihood and wants to see candidates base their policies on science.
Lucas Brady Woods
Colorado voter and beekeeper Beth Conrey checks on one of her honeybee colonies outside of Berthoud on June 10, 2024. She believes fixing basic environmental problems–like soil, vegetation and insect health–will help create solutions to big issues like drought and air quality.

Conrey is far from the only voter concerned about these issues.

KUNC News has been working with other newsrooms across the state through the Voter Voices initiative to survey more than 5,000 Colorado voters about the issues they want candidates to talk about this year. Environmental issues were the third highest concern, after preserving democracy and boosting the economy. Among the voters who responded to KUNC’s survey specifically, though, climate change concerns were only topped by worries about the state of democracy.

Colorado’s primary election on Tuesday comes on the heels of a legislative session where lawmakers tried to tackle environmental issues in a big way. By the time the session ended in May, however, with the support of Gov. Jared Polis, they had scrapped aggressive air quality legislation in place of a compromise with the oil and gas industry. Fossil fuel producers agreed to some new regulations and fees to support conservation, and, in exchange, state lawmakers and the governor agreed to hold off on any more regulations until 2028.

Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency continues to call out high air pollution in Colorado and the American Lung Association gave several communities in the region failing grades on its air quality report card this spring.

“To say we're not going to do anything for four years is reprehensible, really,” Ken Wilson, another long-time Northern Front Range resident, said. “In order for my son, who's in his 30s, and his possible children, to have a decent life, I mean, we are at this critical tipping point.”

Like Beth Conrey in Berthoud, Wilson also listed climate change as his biggest concern this election cycle and wants to see people in power following the science behind these issues. He takes issue with candidates running for office who have minimized or rejected human-caused climate change.

“I certainly wouldn't vote for anybody that makes statements like that,” Wilson told KUNC. “It's just a scientifically illiterate denial of what's actually going on in terms of the climate crisis.”

Voters’ opinions on climate change can have a big impact on elections.

Matt Burgess is a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder who focuses on how environmental issues affect politics and voting. Burgess published a study earlier this year looking at the impacts of environmental concerns on the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

“How important you thought climate change was, was one of the strongest predictors of who you voted for,” Burgess said. “There's a growing majority of voters that would [prefer that] a candidate wants to do something [rather] than nothing.”

His findings showed that, even if climate change is not a voter’s number one concern, they increasingly want to see candidates propose some sort of environmental plan. He also found that unlike other issues, the climate and environment issue is becoming less polarized over time, not just for independent voters but also for Republicans.

“‘We should do something about climate change’ is a huge majority position now, including majorities by many measures and many surveys of Young Republicans, moderate Republicans and certainly independents,” Burgess said.

Burgess pointed to groups like the American Conservation Coalition and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which are working to find conservative solutions to environmental and energy issues.

Regardless, Burgess says it’s hard to predict exactly how climate change will impact the ballot box in the primary on Tuesday or the general election in November. What is clear, though, is that it’s a top concern for Colorado voters like Beth Conrey, Ken Wilson and many others.

Voter Voices is a survey distributed by more than 30 newsrooms across the state asking Coloradans what they want politicians to focus on in the upcoming election that will inform our coverage throughout the 2024 election cycle.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.