‘We’re already behind schedule’: Sen. Hickenlooper talks climate change while facing fear of heights

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GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) — U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) hit the crag Friday morning alongside professional rock climber Tommy Caldwell.

Caldwell is a Colorado native famous for his 2015 free climb ascent of the Dawn Wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan. While climbing and other outdoor adventures are still his passion, he is now adding activism into the mix.

“One thing that climbing gives you is a very intimate relationship with nature. You see the tiny details. You go to the same places year after year. You notice the trees that are dying. The way that the temperature is changing,” Caldwell told FOX31’s Ashley Michels. 

He says he has noticed drastic and significant changes to the environment in world class climbing locations worldwide including Chamonix, Patagonia and at home here in Colorado.

“I’m up in the glaciated regions of Rocky Mountain National Park and probably the first signs I saw were the glaciers receding, but more recently fires. I’ve been evacuated from my home in Estes Park three times now because of forest fires,” Caldwell said.

He is now an environmental advocate for the group Protect Our Winters. 

“These days I’m trying to find ways to use that sort of megaphone that I’ve acquired through [climbing] and fight for good things in the world,” he said. 

Friday morning, that mission took him on a micro-expedition to Golden with Sen. Hickenlooper. 

“Tommy Caldwell is the greatest, certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest rock climbers in America or really in the world,” Hickenlooper said. “We both care deeply about climate change and he knows I’ve got a fear of heights.”

The two geared up in climbing harnesses and attached themselves to ropes leading up a 20-foot climb. After a short lesson from Caldwell, Hickenlooper got on the wall.

While Hickenlooper described the climb with Tommy as a “bucket list experience,” he says the real reason for the adventure is to tout the Infrastructure and Reconciliation Bills making their way through Congress. Both aim to invest in clean energy and green jobs. 

“We’re already behind schedule in addressing climate change,” he said. “We just can’t keep talking about it and hope it’s going to go away.”

The Infrastructure Bill passed the Senate with votes from both parties. The spending bill, on the other hand, does not have Republican support. However, with a price tag soaring into the trillions and jobs in oil and gas at stake, both bills are facing pushback in Washington. 

When asked what he says to those opposed to the pricey legislation, Hickenlooper said, “I had the Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobile in my office a couple months ago and I asked him, ‘What’s your solution? What do you think we should be doing?’ And he hemmed and hawed a little bit but, in the end, he said we think we have to have a price on carbon.”

According to Hickenlooper, his climb with Caldwell symbolizes the fear many Americans have about change when it comes to tackling climate issues. 

“He’s terrified of heights but came out here anyways,” Caldwell said. 

“I’m willing to dangle off a ledge! That should say something about how serious I am,” Hickenlooper said. 

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Infrastructure Bill on Sept. 27. 

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