When you can’t go home again: Growing up in the climate crisis

By Madison Reynolds

There’s a nice stability to growing up in the same state your whole life. At least, that’s what people have always said to me. 

My name is Madison, and I have always lived in Colorado. Originally born in Denver, I lived in the city for the first 18 years of my life. After graduating highschool, I moved to Boulder for college, where I have lived for almost 4 years. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, Boulder is a college town about 45 minutes outside the city that rests in a valley against the Flatiron mountains. On a typical day, you’re bound to make conversation with any one of the students, families, or nature lovers that live here. Rest assured, Boulder residents can always bond over our love of natural open spaces, wildlife, and 300 days of sunshine. Honestly, this helps to build a cherished sense of community here.

However, Colorado isn’t providing any promised sense of stability. If Boulder and its neighboring suburb Superior sound familiar, it’s because we just experienced Colorado’s most destructive fire ever. 1,100 structures were lost in the matter of one day. And as someone who lives within miles of that destruction, I can promise that day was a harrowing experience. 

Although the exact cause of the fire is still unknown, it certainly had to do with the extreme winds and drought conditions that day. Despite being just outside of the evacuation zone, I experienced constant power outages that day. All major highways traveling East towards Denver were closed, as the flames were too close and too unstable to safely use them. That night, I ultimately made the decision to evacuate Boulder voluntarily. It felt like the best decision for my own safety, but leaving my home was a scary experience. No power in the area meant no street lights and no stoplights. Driving those dark back roads towards Denver, it felt almost like I was living in a dystopian movie scene. It was eerily quiet as I slowly passed  abandoned cars and fleeing wildlife. The airborne debris also made the drive dangerous, but I ultimately made it home safe. Sadly, this was a luxury that many residents of Superior did not have that night. Thousands of people and animals lost everything to their name that day. Entire subdivisions, office buildings, and stores are gone. Now, anytime I take the short trip to Denver, I drive past the shells of these structures. The guard rail of the highway is melted and missing, and the air still faintly smells like smoke. It’s a chilling reminder of that windy afternoon.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve been too close for comfort. Like many, my 2020 summer was spent at home. But unlike some, I wasn’t simply staying home because the end of my sophomore year was lost to Zoom school, or because I was socially distancing from my friends. Summer 2020 was filled with, truly, some of the worst wildfire impacts I have ever experienced. Multiple wildfires were erupting around the state, with one only a few miles away. I vividly remember one summer afternoon, when ash was raining down from a darkened orange sky. It hurt to breathe, and the smoke would sting your eyes. I remember using my mask and sunglasses as a shield for the burnt debris that I was desperately trying to avoid. And as I stood on the balcony of my college apartment that night, I watched the faint glow of the flames rip down the mountainside. 

In the 21 years that I have lived in this state, I’ve seen rapid changes from climate change firsthand. Droughts and fires have always been common in Colorado, but never like this. The fires seem to be getting stronger, more frequent, and more unpredictable. Even if you don’t personally live in a state impacted by frequent fires, picture losing an entire inner-city suburb. It’s truly unlike anything we’ve seen before. The effects of climate change are not far removed, and no one will be protected from its impacts. In fact, nothing screams “sign of the times” better than the half-burnt down Tesla center I pass by weekly. Please understand that the consequences of your actions are staring me in the face. For those in Washington, the real world implications may be hard to see. These experiences are boiled down to catchy headlines that lose momentum quickly. But I am urging you, if not begging, to listen to these experiences and understand the gravity of the situation. The climate crisis is happening so quickly that it’s no longer a question of when or if it’s going to get bad, it’s now a question of how bad it’s going to get.

For these reasons, and many more, It is imperative that we advocate for the $550 billion climate spending package (formerly part of the Build Back Better Act). Time after time, we continue to simply rebuild our existing way of life after disasters. Instead, we need to take a proactive approach in shielding our most basic values and institutions from an increasingly volatile climate. Rebuilding can wear many faces, and there is an incredible need to pass resilient climate efforts in congress. I truly believe that the $550 billion climate spending passage is an essential step towards protecting both our climate, and our lives, from what is to come.