Conventional wisdom says voters don’t care about foreign policy. But conventional wisdom is wrong. Because foreign policy touches most everything we Coloradans worry about here at home.
Most career politicians lack foreign policy experience, and many fail to communicate how what happens beyond our borders affects our communities here at home. I’m not a career politician, I’m a Colorado native and former U.S. ambassador who represented our country and President Obama overseas. I was part of the team spanning the White House, State Department, USAID, and Defense department that helped set U.S. foreign policy aimed at delivering results for all 330 million Americans – so I’ll give it a shot.
Put simply: bad foreign policy decisions aren’t just felt in Beijing or London or Mexico City, they hurt Coloradans. Bad foreign policy decisions make it harder to earn a living and live our lives the way we want to here in Colorado.
Let’s use the global climate crisis as an example. We’re now two years out from President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, a deal that put the rest of the world to work to limit carbon emissions and avoid the most disastrous effects of a warming planet.
From a foreign policy perspective, the Paris Agreement was important because it put the United States in the position of helping to set the framework for cooperation that other countries – including China and India – also agreed to. In the foreign policy world, getting those countries to agree to standards at the negotiating table is considered a huge win. It’s also a win that would have been felt at home and in Colorado.
The United States may be out of the Paris Agreement today, but it lives on – the difference is that other countries now run the show and build out the rules. Meanwhile, the United States continues to step backwards in our efforts to stem the worst impacts of the climate crisis, and that will have disastrous effects for Coloradans.
Already, climate change contributes to decreased snowpack and shorter ski seasons; lower river levels that shut down rafting trips in Durango and elsewhere; drought and habitat loss leading to elk herd die-offs that affect Colorado’s hunting season, despite the best efforts of sportsman and conservationists; and warming lakes that threaten 147 freshwater fish species, which will mean less action for Colorado anglers.
In Colorado, outdoor recreation is central to our identity. Our use of shared spaces gives us a sense of common purpose and is part of our way of life. Climate change – and the potential for the Paris Agreement to undo its damage – may feel abstract, but we feel its impacts in our hearts and at home. Outdoor recreation is part of why we love living here, and it’s how many Coloradans earn a living.
According to a 2018 report, Colorado’s outdoor industry contributes $62.5 billion to the state’s GDP and supports more than half a million jobs. That’s nearly one-fifth of Colorado’s economy in terms of both total economic output and employment, an industry that’s growing each year, and that can’t be outsourced.
When one out of every five Coloradans depends on a job that relies on the health of our skiing, rafting, hunting, fishing and other outdoor industries to earn a paycheck and put food on the table, it makes sense that voters are increasingly concerned about climate change, and a 2019 poll backs this up.
If voters care about climate change, they care about foreign policy, too. Rejoining the Paris Agreement, or negotiating a “Paris plus” agreement, would put other countries to work protecting hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of small businesses here in Colorado. Colorado voters should elect leaders who have that experience and can hold the White House accountable for putting us back on the right foreign policy path – not for the sake of global diplomacy but to protect and preserve our way of life.
Dan Baer is a Colorado native and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. He served as a U.S. ambassador and deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, and in Gov. Hickenlooper’s cabinet as head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.