The Alliance Center exists to bring people together to solve systemic problems. The problems we faced just months ago have not diminished or gone away, yet our approach to solving them must adapt to the current COVID-19 crisis and future emergencies. We are committed to bringing the right people together at the right time asking the right questions to produce actionable results.

The Alliance led the Colorado Emergence Series, six virtual meetings, convening the brightest minds from across the state to address systems that must be adapted to create a regenerative recovery in Colorado. We are have produced a final report on how to create pragmatic, community-based solutions that can be replicated and scaled.


In the opening convening of the Colorado Emergence Series we focused on how Colorado can mitigate climate change and equitably move toward 100 percent renewable energy production.


To learn more about the topics of this session, explore the in-depth resources below.

COVID is clearly an ongoing crisis, but our challenge is to emerge from this emergency in ways that forestall the far worse crisis that is already upon us: the climate crisis

Atmospheric carbon levels are expected to increase again this year, even if CO2 emissions cuts are greater still. Rising CO2 concentrations – and related global warming – will only stabilize once annual emissions reach net-zero.

Interestingly, 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from the global production and use of consumer goods. Since the COVID crisis spread, emissions appear to have fallen 5.5 percent over 2019 globally 2,000m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). To meet the Paris Accords of staying below 1.5 degrees C increase we need to cut 7.6% every year (2,800MtCO2 in 2020)

There are really only two ways to solve the climate crisis: renewable production and efficient use of energy and regenerative agriculture [addressed in the next Emergence Workshop].

It is possible to convert the world to renewable production by 2030: Dr. Mark Jacobson showed in 2009 that renewables could power the whole world by 2030. His Solutions Project has shown how to do this for every US state and most countries.

Renewable energy production is now cheaper than fossil production essentially everywhere on the planet.

We’ve now left it till almost too late, but as Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing- after they’ve tried everything else.” That goes for the rest of the world, too, apparently.

In June, General Electric announced that it was abandoning a natural gas power plant that had 20 years of projected life left because it could not compete with solar.  Less than a month later, GE announced a partnership with Blackrock, the big financier, to deliver distributed solar and storage options to homeowners and small businesses.

In August, Portugal announced what could be called the Walmart award for everyday low prices: solar at 1.6¢ per kilowatt hour (¢/kWh) for 599 megawatts.

The stuff that comes out of your wall socket costs you at least a 10¢, and in many areas substantially more. China announced that unsubsidized distributed rooftop solar is cheaper than its coal-fired grid electricity.

California which will hit its 2030 target of being half renewable by 2020, committed to getting 100 percent of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045. More than 100 companies and 1,000 cities, have set such goals.

Similar results are coming in from India, where solar is now 14 percent cheaper than coal, from Europe, where the levelized cost of energy from solar plus storage is already below 2018 spot prices of grid electricity, from Germany where one of every two solar installations now boasts battery storage rendering utilities increasingly irrelevant, and from Australia where solar is cheaper than gas. The Western Australian Energy Minister admits that all future generation will be renewable despite the fact Western Australia has always been a coal province.

In the last month, Abu Dhabi reclaimed the low-cost title with a 2 GW solar project at 1.35¢/ kWh. In the U.S. renewables supplied more electricity than coal every day of April 2020.

One in five Americans is now out of work. 33 million have filed for unemployment since COVID started driving the unemployment rate to over 14.7 percent.

The best way to generate jobs in our communities is to invest in the conversion to renewable energy, to enhance energy efficiency in our buildings and drive the conversion to electric vehicles faster. Dr. Dan Kammen from UC Berkeley has shown that investing in renewables generates 10 times the jobs of investing in central station power plants.

In the short term universal basic income, direct payments to individuals, can prevent catastrophic losses. Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK effectively nationalized private payrolls, telling workers to stay home, but guaranteeing that they would continue to be paid 70 – 90 percent of their salaries over the next three months. They also covered rent for any companies unable to pay. The US opted to expand unemployment insurance, but many applicants have been unable to file.

Fossil futures: Most analysts agree that there is a severely declining future for coal: Just running a coal plant now costs more than installing renewable energy. When the Kentucky Coal Museum puts solar panels on its roof rather than hooking to the coal fired grid at its doorstep, King Coal is dead.

Hydraulic fracturing is a ponzi scheme. Investors are realizing that the enormous sums that they were asked to continue pouring into the industry were likely to never return a profitPrices to frack a new well vary from $40 a barrel to $90 a barrel, depending on whether you’re drilling in West Texas or horizontally under housing developments, but fracked wells typically last less than a year. Even before COVID-19, traditional oil was lifting for $20 – $10 a barrel in Saudi, with a world average of $40. This was not a viable industry even before oil went negative.

But if that is the case, what is the fiduciary responsibility of investing in oil and gas extraction? Bevis Longstreth, former SEC commissioner, opined  in 2018, “It is entirely plausible, even predictable, that continuing to hold equities in fossil fuel companies will come to be ruled negligence.”

This helps explain why more than $11 trillion dollars have been divested from fossil ownership, even before the University of California announced that it was divesting its $80 billion portfolio.

There has been a pervasive belief that Colorado is an extractive industries state. Little could be further from the truth. The regenerative economy in Colorado, has already surpassed the extractive industries of the past. Clean energy delivers 66,223 jobs growing at 9 percent in 2019 compared to oil and gas extraction at 40,420 jobs, declining at 4 percent in 2017. Arts and culture bring delight to life and are a larger creator of jobs and revenue for the state than oil, gas, coal, mining, timbering and the other extractive industries. Arts and culture employ 100,631 people. Outdoor recreation directly employs 229,000, and when direct, indirect and induced employment are tallied, supports a whopping 511,000 jobs in the state, constituting 18.7 percent of Colorado’s labor force. By comparison, oil and gas support 89,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, almost six times fewer than outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation is harmed by the extractive industries, as climate change threatens our skiing, fracking fouls our air and mining tears up the wild lands tourists seek for recreation.

Most jobs are created by entrepreneurs. The Kauffman Foundation has reams of details on this. In the US, the Kauffman Foundation found that in every year from 1977 until 2013, the large companies were net job destroyers. Only small companies and startups were net job creators. They have a recent piece on how to support small businesses.

There is plenty of money to pay for the conversion to a regenerative economy, so long as Congress allocates money as opposed to selling bonds, which require interest payments. This is the conclusion of Dr. Randall Wray, Dr. Stephanie Kelton and their colleagues who allocate what is known as Modern Monetary Theory. In a down economy, especially one without full employment, spending into the real economy will stimulate the private sector and pay for itself. The only limit on this is inflation which we are a very long way away from that. By way of example, the Quantitative Easing implemented after 2008 caused no inflation. The true backing for the US dollar is not gold. It is 330 million very productive, free people and a huge amount of productive real estate with massive natural resources. For more on this, see The Deficit Myth by Dr. Stephanie Kelton.

Wray and Kelton also call for long term job creation via a guaranteed jobs program as opposed to universal basic income. (UBI is okay as an emergency cash stimulation, but guaranteed jobs is the preferred long-term solution.) It would give non-governmental organizations and local governments as much capital as needed, and they can usefully deploy hiring people at a living wage to do the work that the market is failing to deliver including child care, elder care, teaching, restoration of damaged ecosystems and more. This system can ensure the end of structural unemployment and entrenched inequality. It would pay for itself over about five years in reduced welfare costs. The following are some of the measures Wray and Kelton suggest:

  • Use stimulus for abandoned oil wells – gives jobs for oil field workers, as bridge to renewables
  • GND efforts – IMF Chief: $1 trillion post coronavirus stimulus must tackle climate crisis – invest emergency loans into green sectors, scrap subsidies to fossil fuels and tax carbon
  • Green New Deals– Merkel, EU businesses, South Korea
  • The Energy Transitions Commission, including CEO signatories from Royal Dutch Shell, Bank of America, Rio Tinto Zinc and HSBC
  • Our LASER work- This is a free, downloadable how-to manual for local economic renewal, road tested from Kazakhstan to South Africa to Serbia to communities across the North


We explored existing challenges in our local and national food systems, potential regenerative options and specific sectors of this industry to see how we can build back in a more resilient manner.


To learn more about the topics of this session, explore the in-depth resources below.

Colorado is an agricultural state. From the peach orchards of the Western Slope to the potato beds of the San Luis Valley, to cattle drifting through the high country, to the great grain fields of the eastern plains, Colorado’s economy runs on food. And eating, as Wendell Berry said, is an agricultural act.

Our job now is to ensure our agricultural system is resilient, meets the needs of both rural and urban populations, is equitable and capable of sustainably delivering the food and fiber we all need. This is not an impossible dream. This week, the European Union announced that it will condition its bailout programs on adherence to its Green Deal.

To support farmers and the people of Colorado, the state Department of Agriculture seeks to:

  • Support economic opportunity (i.e. market access) and overcome structural barriers (i.e. cost of doing business, financing) in order to keep family farmers and ranchers in business, and allow the next generation to build a career in agriculture.
  • Prevent greater loss of agricultural land and water, and protect essential resources for working lands;
  • Advance farmer and rancher-led soil, water and climate stewardship.

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) set forth the Colorado Water Plan to provide a framework for developing resilient responses to Colorado’s water-related challenges. A priority is: DNR now seeks to advance the values of Colorado’s Water Plan and support increased resiliency under the new COVID-19 landscape. Colorado Water Plan values include:

  • A productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities; viable and productive agriculture and a robust skiing, recreation, and tourism industry.
  • Efficient and effective water infrastructure
  • A strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers, streams and wildlife.

In addition to COVID-19 impacts, especially financially, how do we address the uncertainties of additional pressure points such as:

  • Climate change – impacts from uncertain hydrology, drought, hotter conditions
  • Population growth

Agriculture and water are complicated systems, as the Food Systems Map prepared by the National Western Center (NWC) shows. This map, created by the NWC’s How the West was One program, is worth studying. If we are to achieve Colorado and NWC’s goals of creating a regenerative and nourishing food future for Colorado- reuniting urban and rural lives and livelihoods from soil to supper- we will have to understand how pieces of the system interrelate to each other.

The agriculture sector, as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, includes farm production, forestry, fishing, textile mills and products, apparel, food and beverage sales, service and manufacturing. In Colorado, agriculture uses 47.5 percent of the state’s land, but farm production contributed $2.1 billion in both 2016 and 2017 representing just 0.64 percent and 0.61 percent of Colorado’s GDP in those years. In 2018, projected net farm income was expected to climb slightly to $1.37 billion, but that is still well below the 2011 record.

The industrial agriculture sector has seen a volatile few years with beef exports performing strongly but grain prices dropping as recent trade wars worsened agricultural markets. Profitability has been concentrated in only a few sectors of Colorado’s diverse food and agriculture value chain, most notably natural foods and beef, which account for the largest share of Colorado’s agriculture economy. Of Colorado’s $3.7 billion livestock industry 75 percent comes from cattle making Colorado the fourth largest exporter of fresh and frozen beef in the United States. Natural foods, as described below, are an even larger sector.

Even before COVID-19, industrial agriculture in Colorado was struggling. The 2017 Business Economic Outlook projected that Colorado’s net farm and ranch income would fall to $444 million in 2016, well below the nearly $1.3 billion reported in 2015 and the lowest since 1986. The forecast for 2017 projected a further drop in net income to $392 million. Colorado’s record-high net farm income of $1.8 billion was in 2011. Farm bankruptcies have continued to rise in recent years and are expected to worsen with COVID.

This is just one indicator of the trouble facing Colorado’s agriculture: that climate change is shifting weather patterns and water availability. Mark Twain rightly said, “Whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting over.”  The Front Range’s ability to sustain its population derives from diversion of Western Slope water to lubricate the cities and industrial agriculture of the plains. In Colorado, as globally, almost three-quarters of fresh water withdrawals go to sustain agriculture, but because of outmoded laws, farmers are required to “use it or lose it.” There are almost no markets for saved water, water efficiency, water leasing or other market-based solutions.

Even before COVID, the world faced food shortages. Climate change threatens global food supplies, and the way we are doing agriculture is worsening the climate crisis. Many of the world’s refugees are fleeing global warming driven farm failures. Even in the U.S, almost 90 million people were food insecure before COVID, and this pandemic has brought hunger to many more.

Urban dwellers tend to think that food comes from a grocery store forgetting that such establishments are a relatively recent phenomenon dating only from the late 1940s. People forget that food comes from the hard work of Colorado’s rural residents or from brittle supply chains bringing produce from half a world away.

Those supply chains are breaking during the current health crisis as prized products from toilet paper to bacon disappear from store shelves and food lines stretch for blocks. The system of vertically integrated confined animal feeding operations delivers 105 billion pounds annually of poultry, pork, beef and lamb every year in the U.S, nearly double what it produced three decades ago. Yet this model of efficiency has proven unable to cope with any dislocation.

Most meat processing takes place in a small number of plants controlled by four corporations: Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS USA Holdings Inc. and Cargill Inc. They process over 80 percent of the beef and more than 60 percent of poultry and pork sold in supermarkets. Poultry is so vertically integrated that corporations like Tyson own the chickens themselves. Everybody getting that chicken to the store is a contractor for Tyson. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, meat processing capacity in the U.S. is down 40 percent. This amounts to 200,000 excess pigs a day that will become a million pigs a week with nowhere to go but a mass grave. This is a result of meatpacking plants inability to process them because they are closed by the pandemic. Millions of chickens, pigs and cattle are being culled because front-line workers in the meat packing plants, operations more reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle than the corner butcher shop, are dying of the virus.

A study by Oklahoma State University projected that the pandemic could bleed the beef industry of an estimated $13.6 billion. This means that prices to the consumer are up but livestock prices for farmers are collapsing.

One report observed, “The same features that allow a steady churn of cheap meat also provide the perfect breeding ground for airborne diseases like the coronavirus: a cramped workplace, a culture of underreporting illnesses and a cadre of rural, immigrant and undocumented workers who share transportation and close living quarters….As of May 20, officials have publicly linked at least 15,300 COVID-19 infections to 192 U.S. meatpacking plants, according to tracking by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. At least 63 workers have died.” In the 1950’s meatpacking workers were unionized and earned almost $35,000 a year with paid sick time. Now the norm is under $30,000, and only one in five packers are unionized.

Farm laborers and grocery store workers are also at risk. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, warns that more than 100,000 grocery workers have been exposed and 68 have died. Clearly, one of the challenges to the industry is to ensure worker safety and rethink the supply chains to make them more locally robust and resilient.

  • In contrast, the natural and organic foods sector is growing. Globally, organic retailers are seeing up to a 30 percent boost since COVID. Colorado, the Front Range and Boulder in particular, is home to the highest concentration of natural and organic product companies in the nation. In  2011, the last year for which data is available, the industry contributed $2.5 billion in revenue and 8,278 jobs statewide, while industrial agriculture and forestry combined contributed $2.7 billion. Compare this to oil and gas extraction, which employed 8,412 statewide in 2017. In 2013, Colorado led the organic industry with nearly 270 certified organic farms and ranches with more organic certified acres than any other state. Data are scarce, but the industry has only grown since then. Nationally the food market as a whole grows at a bit over 1 percent, but the organic market, now at over $50 billion a year, grows at over 5 percent annually.

    Organic farmland in Colorado increased over 4000 percent between 1997 and 2015, growing from 3,716 acres to 151,571 acres. There are an additional 70,000 acres dedicated to organic pasture and range land. Between 2012 and 2015, Colorado’s organic agricultural industry more than doubled in sales, growing from $66.2 million in 2012 to $155.2 million. This is good news for Colorado job creation and prosperity.

    Studies have shown that areas with high rates of organic farming have lower levels of poverty and higher household incomes. One piece of research identified 225 counties in the United States in organic hotspots—counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity that have neighboring counties with high organic activity. It looked at how the organic hotspots impact key county-level economic indicators. Organic Hotspots boost household incomes and reduce poverty levels—and at greater rates than general agriculture activity, and even more than major anti-poverty programs. Being an Organic Hotspot increases median household income by over $2,000 and  lowers a county’s poverty rate by as much as 1.35 percentage points.

    A 2012 study by M+R Strategic Services found that organic agriculture creates 21 percent more jobs than conventional agriculture with 28,000 jobs for every $1 billion in sales. A similar study in the UK found that organic agriculture delivers 32 percent more jobs than conventional.

    Craft Brewing Industry

    Beverage production generally, and craft brewing in particular, are rising sub-sectors of Colorado agriculture, employing 9,790 in the Metro Denver area (dubbed the Napa Valley of Beer) by the end of 2017.  Craft brewing is adding $3.16 billion economic impact to the state. The Beverage Production sector had the highest job growth (at 28.1 percent) of any sector in Colorado between 2011 and 2016”. The average wage in the beverage production industry (which also includes wine, bottled drinks and distilled liquors) in Metro Denver in 2017 was $59,880.


    The legal cannabis industry’s labor force grew 7-fold between January 2014 and February 2018, now employs almost 20,000 statewide and stimulates almost $3 billion of annual consumer spending. It contributes as much to state and local tax revenue as cigarette and tobacco taxes, and almost 5 times as much as alcohol taxes. Most cannabis products are sourced locally, unlike many consumer products purchased in the state leading to relatively high economic multipliers compared to other industries. This creates more output and employment per dollar spent than 90 percent of Colorado industries. The Cannabis Jobs Count report identifies some 211,00 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis sector nationwide. This total increased to 296,000 when indirect and induced employment was included. By comparison, 112,000 Americans are estimated to work in the textile industry while only about 52,000 people are employed by the coal mining industry. Nationwide, legal cannabis is one of the greatest job-creation machines in America. The cannabis workforce increased 21 percent in 2017, gained another 44 percent in 2018 and 20 percent growth in jobs in 2019 for a 110 percent growth in cannabis jobs in just three years.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic system of farms, farmers and customers that balances the relationship between all inputs, nature and the community. In general, regenerative farmers seek to use only manure from livestock produced onsite as fertilizer, supplanting synthetic nutrients derived from natural gas. They grow their own organic seed, rejecting costly industrially produced, genetically modified and chemically-coated seed. They trade locally for what they cannot produce themselves creating a vibrant web of community.

Regenerative agriculture nourishes the soil on which all life depends especially the microbial life that sequesters carbon in the earth [See the work of Gabe Brown]. It turns from industrial farming, now imperiling human ability to grow food, and accepts the science that small-holder organic farming is the best way to feed the world. It revitalizes rural communities as it improves the health of our food and the environment on which food production depends.

Regenerative grazing, pioneered by Colorado’s Savory Institute, and organic vegetable production both restore soil structure, build healthy topsoil, nurture soil microbes and promote biological activity all of which contribute to long-term productivity and nutritious crops. Savory Institute’s Land to Market program and Ecological Outcome Verification enable producers to prosper from these replicable, verifiable practices.

This approach sequesters vast amounts of atmospheric CO2 as mineralized soil carbon, potentially reversing the climate crisis at a profit. Rough numbers are that every one percent increase in soil organic matter increases soil carbon five tons per acre and water holding capacity 20,000 gallons per acre. If these best practices were used on all the world’s grasslands it could be possible over 30 years-time to return atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 280 parts per million, the pre-industrial level.

These practices enhance native biodiversity. Water use is optimized. Farm worker safety and investment in local businesses sustain farming communities. Because more people are needed to do the work that the chemicals previously did, regenerative farming increases employment, helping meet demand for jobs. Because such agriculture melds the best of modern science with ancient culture, such lives are rewarding and sustainable. For more information on the viability of these approaches see: A Finer Future, Creating an Economy in Service to Life.

With the shutdown in big supply chains, more people are looking to local agriculture. In Colorado, subscriptions for Community Supported Agriculture are on a waiting list basis. Local dairies that deliver are seeing dramatically increased business. Joe Cloud, who owns T&E Meats in Harrisonburg, Virginia, observed, “These big plants are being forced to shut down, they slaughter 6,500 animals a day — six times my annual output,” he said. “A plant like mine is inefficient and our meat prices are higher, but there’s a lot more resiliency.”

Interestingly, some small-scale farmers, although they have been largely excluded from bailout programs, are adapting better than their industrial competitors. Nationally, more than 167,000 small farms sell $8.7 billion worth of meat and produce directly to consumers, restaurants and retailers each year. With some farm stands and farmers markets closed due to the pandemic, many shifted their businesses online, and farms across the country report that customers are following in droves. Huffington Post profiled Longmont’s Sky Pilot Farms, scrambling to meet increased demand from on-line and drive-up customers to their farm stand. Similarly, Aspen Moon Farms is selling through the Boulder Farmers’ Market’s pickup service, which pivoted to supply SNAP customers, paid for in part by wealthier customers buying the overflow.

Brian Coppom, Director of the Boulder Farmers’ Market stated, “The silver lining in all of this, is that more folks are waking up to the inadequacies of the industrial food system, and they’re responding by buying locally. It’s a foundation we can build on — Coppom estimates that based on acreage alone, agriculture done in Boulder County could feed 25-30 percent of the population.” How much of our needs could Colorado supply, and how would doing that improve our economy?

This is the question that motivated the creation of SOIL: Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally, a program of Slow Money in Boulder. This program links urban dwellers with local farmers, providing zero interest loans to fund the next generation of diversified, organic farms and the small food enterprises that bring their produce to the local market. There is a SOIL chapter in the Boulder Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley on the Western Slope with another forming in Durango. Similarly, Mad Agriculture is bringing financing and farm planning to help farmers implement regenerative agriculture.

Even before COVID, the growing popularity of regenerative agriculture attracted major agricultural companies. General Mills has committed to help farmers on a million acres implement regenerative practices. Danone, Kellogg, Nestlé and a dozen other companies announced the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) coalition to promote regenerative agriculture at the recent United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City. Land O’Lakes, the large dairy conglomerate promises to increase sustainability on 1.5 million acres of U.S.-grown corn. Microsoft has pledged to go not only carbon neutral but carbon negative by 2030 using regenerative agriculture and nature-based solutions to remove all of the carbon that the company ever emitted.

Recognizing the importance of soil health, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) is developing a Colorado Soil Health Program (CSHP), a voluntary, incentive-based program to help farmers and ranchers build drought resilience, improve water and air quality, sequester carbon, and reduce erosion through cost-effective and sensible soil management practices. Colorado’s $3 billion budget deficit, however, will require partnerships with farmers, communities, NGOs and others to implement what is now needed to ensure a resilient agriculture system.

Most Federal farm programs are oriented only to support big farming. Globally agricultural subsidies top $1 million a minute. A recent report from the Food and Land Use Coalition called for a 10-point program to reverse destructive agriculture practices, including:

1: Promoting healthy diets
2: Scaling productive and regenerative agriculture
3: Protecting and restoring nature
4: Securing a healthy and productive ocean
5: Diversifying protein supply
6: Reducing food loss and waste
7: Building local loops and linkages
8: Harnessing the digital revolution
9: Delivering stronger rural livelihoods
10: Improving gender equality and accelerating the demographic transition

The European Union recently published its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies as part of its strategy on the European Green Deal, which remains a priority for Europe. This calls for:

  • Reduction in pesticides by 50 percent and fertilizers by 20 percent by 2030 and an increase in organic farming.
  • EU sales for antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture will be reduced by 50 percent while the share of organic farming would be increased by 25 percent by 2030.
  • “The EU Commission is committed to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030.” It will use new data expected by the member states in 2022 to set a baseline for legally binding targets

It calls for sustainable food systems that:

  • Have a neutral or positive environmental impact.
  • Help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.
  • Reverse the loss of biodiversity.
  • Ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food.
  • Preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade.

Change is coming in the U.S. too. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker recently introduced The Farm System Reform Act to prohibit new large factory farms from going into business and force others to cease expansions before halting operations entirely within two decades. It would impose an immediate ban on new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and phase out all large factory farming by 2040 with voluntary buyouts for smaller operations. “The COVID-19 crisis will make it easier for Big Ag to get even bigger, gobble up smaller farms and lead to fewer choices for consumers… We need to start reversing the hyper-concentration in our farm economy.”


The true strength of Colorado’s economy comes from Its land and its people. Together we can generate both social and ecological health and economic prosperity. With the right combination of policies and programs, Colorado’s leadership can support its regenerative industries, already our biggest assets. Doing this will continue the state’s ongoing economic transformation away from damaging practices and towards ones that deliver shared prosperity on a healthy planet.


In this session, we discussed voter suppression, racial inequality, gerrymandering and more, to identify existing gaps in Colorado’s democracy and how we can ensure all Coloradans are properly represented and heard.


To learn more about the topics of this session, explore the in-depth resources below.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others ever tried.”

-Winston Churchill

It is worth noting a few facts about Colorado’s use of democracy: the State had the nation’s second-highest turnout rate in the 2018 midterm election. At 61.9 percent of that population, Colorado ranked second behind Minnesota, which turned out 64.3 percent of its voting-eligible population.

Democrats swept the races for the top State offices and re-took control of the State Senate to give the party the “trifecta” of controlling the governor’s office, State House and State Senate. This changed the State’s historic “purplish” tendency of splitting power among these institutions.

Colorado leads many states in ease of voting. It is one of only five states (Colorado, Utah, Washington, Hawaii and Oregon) to have a full vote-in-mail systems (Universal mail-in ballots). California, Nebraska and North Dakota don’t have state-wide systems but allow counties to set up vote-by-mail systems in their locations. In the 28 remaining states and the District of Columbia, registered voters can request absentee ballots to be mailed to them ahead of the election. Voters can apply to get their ballot either by mail or online.

Seventeen states have strict voting laws and only allow for absentee ballots under particular circumstances including: Alabama, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Voter Suppression Concerns Associated with COVID-19

Many experts believe that the 2020 Presidential election will take place, but Robert Reich, for one, has expressed grave concern that Trump will try to cancel the election. Ballotpedia is tracking changes related to our voting process. Even aside from such overt abrogation of the Constitution, there are many reasons to be concerned about the current state of our democracy.

The ills besetting our system include:

What is needed for democracy to flourish? Education (civic education), a free press that is respected and a discerning public.

Peter Baker in “We can’t go back to normal: how will coronavirus change the world,” observed that despite claims that governments are incapable of making big moves or any at all, in the last few months schools were closed in days, public gatherings cancelled. Governments spent trillions on some of the largest economic stimulus packages in history to counter the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world were out of work. Landlords in some cities were banned from collecting rent, or banks from collecting mortgage payments. Homeless people were allowed to stay in hotels free of charge. Some governments even began a variant of basic income. “Historically crises and disasters set the stage for change.”

Similarly, in the past week, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, change has begun to come to how governments police their people.

The question now for our democracy and for Colorado is what changes do we wish to see implemented?


We explored how our state can lean into opportunities for job and profit generation through the implementation of innovative ideas and entrepreneurial efforts to help our workforce and economy bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis.


To learn more about the topics of this session, explore the in-depth resources below.

COVID-19 hit Colorado hard, costing us 323.000 jobs in April. This is more jobs than there are in the entire state of Wyoming. Where we previously enjoyed an unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, joblessness soared to 13 percent, less than some states (Nevada is suffering an unemployment rate of 28.2 percent) but still dangerously high. Leisure and hospitality represented 54 percent of the jobs lost. Ski areas were directly impacted: Pitkin County registered the state’s highest unemployment rate with 23.1 percent followed by Gilpin County at 23 percent. San Miguel, Summit and Eagle counties also had unemployment rates above 20 percent. The ski industry nationally lost $2 billion this winter. Some projections for next winter put COVID’s cost to the industry at $5 billion if the downturn continues .

The good news is that unemployment numbers have been easing, dropping to 10.2 percent in May. Job gains erased 20 percent of the losses since February. Many of these gains have been in the hospitality industry, which lost almost 150,000 jobs, or over half of all of Colorado’s unemployment.

The pandemic’s impacts revealed equity issues in the mountain communities where the backbone of the workforce is Hispanic including grocery stores, health care facilities and other essential businesses. In Summit County, for example the Latinx population is only a bit under 15 percent of the total but 61 percent of all COVID cases. This is similar to the rest of Colorado where Hispanics represented 40 percent of coronavirus cases but make up only 20 percent of the population.

In many ways, Colorado is a basket of economies including rural, ski, oil patch and urban areas. Although meat packing was hit hard, the agricultural counties on the Eastern Plains did fairly well with unemployment rates remaining below 5 percent. Cheyenne County suffered only 2.4 percent unemployment. Grand Junction registered the highest unemployment rate among metro areas at 12.6 percent followed by Colorado Springs at 12.3 percent. Metro Denver’s unemployment rate came in at 12.1 percent, and Boulder and Greeley had the lowest metro unemployment rates at 9.7 percent and 9.8 percent.

The Front Range comprises almost 90 percent of the Colorado economy. Before February, it was a dynamic, growing region, rapidly transitioning from the legacy economy of extractive industries to one featuring more regenerative businesses. Even during the COVID lockdown, jobs in the information sector grew.

The oil-driven areas are suffering, losing more than 600 jobs, but only part of the damage is from the pandemic. Fracking has failed to return on its investments in all but one quarter throughout its history. Even before COVID-19 investors realized that the enormous sums they were asked to pour into the industry were never likely to return a profit. Prices to frack a new well vary widely. Depending on whether you’re drilling in West Texas or horizontally to frack under housing developments oil costs can vary from $40 to $90 a barrel with fracked wells typically lasting less than a year. With traditional oil costing $10 to $20 a barrel to extract in Saudi Arabia, and the world average oil price at $40, this was not a viable industry even before the price of oil went negative. This is in part why Bevis Longstreth, former SEC commissioner, opined, “It is entirely plausible, even predictable that continuing to hold equities in fossil fuel companies will come to be ruled negligence.” It also helps explain why more than $11 trillion dollars have been divested from fossil ownership, even before the University of California announced that it was divesting its $80 billion endowment portfolio from fossil stocks.

Colorado’s economy was changing before the pandemic hit. A state built by fur traders and miners, Colorado’s extractive industries have long been thought to be the backbone of the economy, but this is far from today’s reality. The legacy industries are fading while the industries that are more regenerative of human and natural capital are rising.

Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation’s Industry Cluster Report puts the Fossil Fuels industry cluster at 40,420 direct jobs statewide. Elsewhere on Metro Denver EDC’s website, they adhere more strictly to the North American Industry Classification System, wherein the mining sector, composed of mining, mining support and oil and gas extraction, directly employs 25,578. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, puts direct employment in the oil and gas sectors at 30,000. Regardless, however you count it, employment in fossil fuels decreased by 8.4 percent statewide between 2012 and 2017.

Oil, gas and mining are often portrayed as the cornerstone of the Colorado economy, yet this is no longer true. The relative size and importance of legacy industries like oil, gas and other mining are often overstated. For example, the craft brewing industry employs 22,411 statewide—nearly as much as the oil and gas industry. The University of Colorado’s four campuses in total employ 32,386, and clean energy directly employs 66,223 Coloradans.

Many other industries are under appreciated as essential economic engines but are performing strongly and contributing to Coloradans’ livelihoods. The IT-software industry cluster employs 58,190 in nine Metro Denver counties. Arts and culture employs 100,631 statewide. Outdoor recreation directly employs 229,000, and when direct, indirect and induced employment are tallied, this industry supports a whopping 511,000 jobs in the state. This constitutes 18.7 percent of Colorado’s labor force. By comparison, oil and gas support 89,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, which is almost six times fewer than outdoor rec.

The outdoor recreation sector contributes almost $40 billion to state GDP. IT-software contributes $14 billion, arts and culture contributes $13.7 billion and mining contributes $2.5 billion. The natural and organic foods sector contributes $2.5 billion, while industrial agriculture and forestry combined contribute $2.7 billion.

Organic farmland in Colorado increased over 4000 percent between 1997 and 2015, growing from 3,716 acres to 151,571 acres. This trend also means more jobs. A 2012 study by M+R Strategic Services found that organic agriculture creates 21 percent more jobs than conventional agriculture with 28,000 jobs for every $1 billion in sales. A similar study in the UK found that organic agriculture delivers 32 percent more jobs than industrial farming. Organic farms need more people to work the operation, tend to be smaller and trade more locally, increasing the economic multiplier. A study of sustainable agriculture as an economic development strategy in Missouri found that a shift to sustainable farming would create more than 165 additional farm households per county and more than 300 additional farm and non-farm households. “Few community leaders,” the study stated, “would ignore the potential for creating 165 new self-employment opportunities and the means of supporting 300 new households in total in their counties.”

The legal cannabis industry’s labor force grew seven times between January 2014 and February 2018 and now employs almost 20,000 statewide. It contributes as much to state and local tax revenue as cigarette and tobacco taxes and almost 5 times as much as alcohol taxes. IT-software had the fastest employment growth of any Colorado sector between 2012 and 2017, increasing its labor force by 32.2 percent. The Boulder-Denver region is a hotspot for startups, acquisitions and VC investment. Metro Denver employs the highest proportion of workers in aerospace of any US metro area. The report entitled The Emergence of an Innovation Cluster in the Agricultural Value Chain along Colorado’s Front Range argued that universities plus entrepreneurs minus regulation multiplied by high quality of life equals innovation. It described how food and agriculture businesses along the front range were growing two to four times faster than the state’s economy overall, stating, “The state’s plains may be where the corn is grown and cattle are raised, but… it’s Denver where agriculture is being transformed.” The potential for value-added agriculture industries in Colorado led NPR to query whether the Front Range of Colorado could become the Silicon Valley of Agriculture.

Beyond the hard numbers, Colorado continues to excel in terms of quality of life for its residents—one of Colorado’s unique economic value propositions. Colorado and Hawaii are the only two states to have ranked in the top 10 for overall well-being every year since Gallup’s rankings began in 2008. Boulder was ranked as having the highest physical well-being in the nation in 2018, and in 2016, Denver was named the best city to live in.

The true strength of Colorado’s economy comes from its more regenerative businesses—several established and many emerging—that generate both social and ecological health and economic prosperity. Colorado’s leadership can support these regenerative industries, continuing the state’s ongoing economic transformation away from damaging practices and towards ones that deliver shared prosperity on a thriving planet.

Colorado is already well into a transition away from industries that are dangerous and polluting to business practices that are more regenerative. The International Energy Agency’s recent report, Sustainable Recovery, warns returning to business as usual in an effort to repair the economy would unleash a climate disaster. Instead, they, like the European Union and the German government, call for a recovery based on climate protection and investing in the renewable technologies and energy efficiency measures. These would create more jobs per dollar invested than the high carbon economy. Failure to do this, the report warns, will put climate protection out of reach. The report outlined the number of jobs that can be created from various investments:

Source: The Guardian

Business as usual forecasts are not encouraging. IHS Markit, which provides economic and industry-level forecasts and data, warned that post-COVID “Colorado will be in the top 10 for job losses, fifth-worst” in the nation.

Whether this comes true is not fate, but choice. Colorado is entrepreneurial, birthplace for niche markets like hemp and CBD that go on to lead the nation. The shift to clean technology, regenerative agriculture and the other job creation engines offers Colorado the chance to create a more inclusive, resilient life for all. In the wake of the pandemic, the state should invest in the industries of the future, not those of the past.


We discussed the intersectionality of transportation, the built environment and the conservation of natural resources now and in decades to come.


To learn more about the topics of this session, explore the in-depth resources below.

Infrastructure is the foundation on which we live our lives. The question as Colorado “builds back better” is what are the infrastructure needs of the future? What are the investments we will need as the economy shifts in more regenerative directions?

Underpinning all life—all economic activity—is our natural infrastructure. This includes the intact ecosystems that provide our life support systems including air to breathe, water to drink, fertile soil to grow our food and climate stability. Discussions about economics, and especially about infrastructure, tend to forget all economics depends on a healthy environment.

The natural infrastructure is especially essential to Colorado’s economy. The state’s great outdoors is the backbone of our gargantuan tourism and outdoor industries. Tourism provides 165,000 jobs and almost $6 billion in revenue. With 1.7 percent of the US population, Colorado has almost 8 percent of the nation’s tourism jobs. The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) based in Boulder is “the leading trade association and voice of the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry in the United States. It serves more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the active outdoor lifestyle.” Outdoor Recreation in Colorado creates nearly four times as many direct jobs (229,000) as the oil and gas industry (30,000) and the mining industry (19,000) combined and generates $28 billion of annual consumer spending, 229,000 direct jobs, $9.7 billion in wages and salaries and $2 billion in state and local tax revenue. In 2016, these jobs constituted 8.3 percent of Colorado’s workforce.

Infrastructure is conventionally defined as “the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities … needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, i.e. ‘the social and economic infrastructure of a country.’” The presence of properly sited and maintained roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, broadband, power grids, sanitation and buildings is critical to a vibrant economy. In recoveries from economic down turns, “shovel-ready,” conventional infrastructure projects are often the first investments made. Conversely, the failure to properly maintain the built infrastructure will cripple an economy. The American Society of Civil Engineers 2020 report card on Colorado’s infrastructure gave the state a C minus.

Colorado actually ranked above most of the U.S, with half of the U.S. average in regards to power outages, half the water usage due to efficiency campaigns and better roads and bridges. Yet, there’s still much room to improve. The state suffers from growing population and aging infrastructure. ASCE rated individual infrastructure categories as: aviation (B), bridges (C+), dams (C+), drinking water (C-), energy (C+), hazardous waste (C-), levees (D+), parks (C), rail (B-), roads (C-), schools (D+), solid waste (C-), transit (C-) and wastewater (C-). Schools received a D+, needing nearly $14 billion in improvements, far exceeding funding available, especially post-COVID.

In November 2019 the State Transportation Commission committed to spend $1.6 billion to widen I-70, I-25 and various other roads around the state. Yet many analysts believe that autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs) will become common by 2025, and dominant by 2030. If this is true, mobility would cost 1/4 to 1/10 what it does today, and there would be 1/6 the number of cars on the road. There would also be essentially no need or parking. Might money be better spent on rapid transit to mesh with AEVs? A CDOT survey found that Front Range residents overwhelmingly (85% percent) support a train between Pueblo and Fort Collins.

Americans have a well-documented love affair with their cars. There are more than four million licensed drivers in the state. But most of us really want mobility, not greater automobility. We’ve designed our transportation systems and cities for cars, effectively disenfranchising the roughly 1.7 million people in the state who are too young, old, infirm or poor to drive. Street life, neighborhoods and the public realm have been sacrificed as we meet our neighbors through our windshields. New Urbanist architect Andres Duany reflects “Our social interactions are reduced to aggressive competition for square feet of asphalt.” Perhaps it is no surprise that walkable districts are increasingly popular to tourists and residents.

A growing number of cities already ban cars from all or a portion of their downtowns and are redesigning themselves to be human-centered. Madrid removed cars from the city center. Paris closes its center streets on the first Sunday of each month. Vaubahn, Germany is entirely car-free: you can own a car, but must park it at the edge of town in an expensive garage. Given that the mass transit works, few residents own a car. In Curitiba, Brazil, city planners laid out the bus routes, then bought land where the transit nodes would be to site medical facilities, city buildings, schools and other destination facilities. Curitiba has the highest car ownership in Brazil, but the lowest car user-ship. Many cities are banning high-pollution vehicles and considering allowing only zero-emission vehicles. A dozen Colorado cities have closed streets, eliminated parking places and created new pedestrian malls to allow people to get outdoors and restaurants to offer outdoor seating during a time of social distancing. Human-centered design advocates are urging that these closures become permanent. Cities like Boulder, Denver and Aspen already have successful pedestrian malls. Other cities are implementing congestion pricing to slow the ubiquity of cars.

Automobiles kill hundreds of Colorado residents every year. Drivers are estimated to lose more than 30 hours sitting in traffic congestion every year (Denver commuters suffer far more), a loss predicted to almost double by 2040. But repeated studies have shown that building more roads creates induced travel demand and worsens congestion. Despite this, we’re driving more. Vehicle miles traveled in Colorado increased 25 percent from 2000 to 2016 and from 42 billion miles to 52 billion miles traveled annually.

Internal combustion engine vehicles cause air pollution, which when combined with the fugitive methane from fracking, creates the “brown cloud” that forced the EPA to downgrade Denver and the eight other Front Range counties from moderate to seriously out of compliance with Federal air quality standards. If it fails to initiate corrective measures Colorado could lose federal highway funding. Colorado’s air pollution comes primarily from cars, coal plants, oil refineries, coal mines, waste disposal and airports. One report found that “Emissions from the vast network of well pads, tank batteries and compressor stations that make up Colorado’s oil and gas supply chain, for example, account for as much as 40 percent of local ozone production on high ozone days in the metro area.” But much of the rest (45% percent) comes from vehicles.

The usual antidote to cars is transit. Despite Denver’s goal of 30 percent of commuters choosing transit options by 2030, in 2016 the real number was 6 percent. The pandemic further cut willingness to share modes of mobility or to travel at all. In Colorado, both the Transfort of Fort Collins and RTD of Denver cut services. RTD, which saw its ridership decline 73 percent in April, still has limited services and requires riders and staff to wear masks although it resumed fare collection and front-door boarding in July. Metro Denver transit services are estimated to take years to recover.

Under COVID restrictions, car travel was reduced 40 percent nationally, but air monitors noticed that ozone pollution was only down 15 percent. It turns out that truck traffic increased, as more people ordered things online, and industrial sources of pollution were unaffected. America used to have a vibrant network of rail transport. Dozens of rail companies served cities and small towns with a network of 10,000 railway stations. The U.S.’s choice to subsidize the automobile left this network to decay to the point that today Amtrak services only 500 depots using rails belonging to freight companies, forcing schedules to delay trips when the rails are busy.

There is a direct link between the transportation system and the built environment. People drive for many reasons, but most driving results from the necessity to “drive until you qualify.” Housing tends to be cheaper at a distance from city centers. This is exacerbated in the mountain tourist towns where some workers live packed in trailer parks far from the ski hills, forcing long commutes over winter roads.

Uncontrolled growth has elicited efforts to limit sprawl, but this creates a tension with affordable housing. That said, Vail, in a country that historically did little to restrict growth, has housing costs and worker commutes as bad as Aspen, located in Pitkin County famous for its growth controls. It has long been shown that growth, especially residential growth, does not pay for itself. The costs it imposes on a community exceed the benefits, forcing increased taxes, now borne by the prior residents, to pay for the increase. Developers win, citizens typically lose.

Colorado has no statewide planning regulations, allowing home-rule cities and counties to set land-use planning as they see fit. Some like Boulder, Aspen have imposed urban growth boundaries, but much of Colorado is built on sprawl. A Denver Post report from 2008 identified the extent to which sprawl and automobility is subsidized:

  • State transportation planning and funding policies reward new-auto dependent development by burdening existing taxpayers with the tab for congestion relief.
  • Zoning laws often do not allow compact mixed-use development.
  • Reliance on sales tax to fund municipal services puts municipalities in competition with one another and creates an incentive to expand.
  • State annexation laws facilitate leap-frog development in search of sales tax revenue.
  • The ease of forming special taxing districts offers developers tax-exempt financing to build infrastructure for raw, rural land, making infill development within existing communities comparatively more costly.
  • Cities and counties are not using their authority to charge impact fees, which removes the incentive to develop in locations where the impacts are minimized.
  • The absence of regional planning or statewide planning goals pits municipalities against one another and fosters redundant services.

Development can be done well as Dana Crawford’s work in Lower Downtown Denver has shown. Iconic buildings like Union Station were saved and converted to vibrant public spaces. The Alliance Center retrofitted a 100-year-old warehouse in LoDo. The project implemented strategies to promote building health, energy and water efficiency while preserving historic integrity. The building, now net-zero, is a “Living Laboratory” testing a DC-microgrid, showing that buildings can be a conduit between electric vehicles and the utility while also reducing building energy costs. Certified as LEED O&M v4 Platinum, LEED-EB Gold and LEED-CI Silver, Energy Star Leader, The Alliance Center won the USGBC National Award for Education by an Organization, received the Colorado Energy Champion Award and Mayor’s Design Award: It Ain’t Easy Being Green, is LEED Arc 4.1 and part of Certifiably Green Denver. The retrofit doubled available office space, doubled the building’s revenue, increased the appraised value from $6 million to $14 million and created space for events for 30,000 people annually, spreading the nonprofit’s mission to “advance sustainability through collaboration among nonprofits, business, government and education.

Colorado has a water quality problem. Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, is considered the most polluted neighborhood in the nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing such toxic chemicals as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more. This community of Hispanic, Black and immigrant families is considered an environmental justice hotspot. It is also the site of the rerouting of I-70, and the rebuilding of the National Western Center all of which neighbors fear will further degrade their home. Similarly, the towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield are fighting PFOA contamination from the neighboring military base.

Denver Post analysis of federal compliance data found that Colorado permits 39 major industrial facilities to release thousands of tons of pollutants into waterways each year. Seventeen of these exceeded legal limits a total of 241 times from January 2016 to September 2017. In the wealthiest nation on earth, in a state that prides itself on its attractiveness, clean water ought to be a human right.

The “old-normal” economy was built on the linear take-make-waste model. A regenerative economy is built on repurposing and circularity. Plastics are the most visible example of squandered resources. Polluting nature, endangering wildlife and taxing natural systems, plastics is even entering the food we eat and the air we breathe. Such pollution is projected to increase 40 percent in the next decade. Colorado, however is on the verge of implementing an alternative: on June 29, the Colorado Assembly passed SB20-055 a bill to create more end markets for recycled materials in Colorado. If signed, this would reduce the need to transport materials out of state, lower costs for recyclers and shrink our carbon footprint. Eco-Cycle, a Boulder based recycling pioneer, provides resources and education to eliminate waste in Colorado. It estimates that a U.S. recycling rate of 75 percent by 2030 would create 1.1 million new jobs. Recycling and reuse create at least 9 times more jobs than landfills and incinerators. Still, approximately $265 million worth of paper, glass, metal and plastic is buried each year in Colorado landfills. If Colorado increased its recycling by just 10 percent, the emissions reductions would be equivalent to taking 4,000 cars off the road for a year.

Fixing all of these challenges is a job creator. The International Energy Agency estimates that a green recovery would generate nearly nine million new jobs globally.

University of Massachusetts economist Robert Pollin, estimates that a U.S. Green New Deal  (GND) would increase jobs in Colorado by 3 percent to 4 percent. Roughly one-third of these jobs would be blue-collar construction jobs, while the others would be in maintaining, running, and administering renewable energy. Advanced Energy Economics predicted in 2019 that even without the GND, clean energy jobs in Colorado would expand by 9 percent 2019. The pandemic resulted in a lot of green energy job losses, but these are jobs that can come back a lot faster than those in oil and gas.


For the final session of the Emergence Series, we brought together over 75 leaders from across the country including 15 senior members of the Polis administration, philanthropists representing over $2.6 billion in funding capacity and members of the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. Our purpose was to present initial findings from the series and brainstorm how to implement these solutions.