For two years, I’ve been lucky enough to write this column about environmental issues for SFR each month. Now, the time has come to embrace other projects and make way for new voices. Thanks, readers, for all the story tips and letters—and thanks most of all for your time. Since this is an opinion column, I thought I’d fire away one last time before saying goodbye.
1. Still arguing with people about whether climate change is real or human-caused? Drop it. The climate is already changing. Don’t take my word for it. Instead heed the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler. He’s a professor in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department—and one of the authors of the most recent assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Over the past few decades, temperatures in New Mexico have already risen by several degrees Fahrenheit, he says. Snowpack has decreased, the snowline is rising—in elevation and latitude— and snows are melting earlier in the season. No, scientists don’t know the precise rate of change and how it fits in with the natural variability of wet years and dry years, says Gutzler. But don’t let scientific talk of uncertainty fool you into thinking there’s anything uncertain about the warming trend. “There’s nothing we see, in the record or the model estimates,” he says, “that leads me to see anything other than continued warming and the hydrological effects that go along with continued warming, like lower streamflow.”
So. Let’s plan for how life will play out on landscapes and within ecosystems and communities as climate change happens. Alternately, if we’re not willing to plan, let’s acknowledge what we’re willing to kiss goodbye. Think of it like a diet plan: “First I’ll give up native fish and cottonwood trees. Next, it’s alfalfa fields and green chile. Finally, I’ll give up my house and drinking water. And then? I’ll move to Vermont.”
2. According to a recent report from Environment New Mexico, last year alone hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—of oil and gas wells in the state produced three billion gallons of wastewater. That’s a pretty big deal, considering we live in an arid state that’s been experiencing drought for much of the last decade.
Don’t want your water fracked away? Fight to keep your water clean, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve done good by outsourcing dirty development to communities beyond your own. By and large, low-income people bear the impacts of other people’s good living. (Just cast a glance around New Mexico, from the colonias along the border with Mexico to Native communities adjacent to coal-fired power plants, gas fields, and uranium mines.)
So, sure, fight the frack. But keep in mind that today’s endless consumer choices—from driving a car and living in a 2,000-square-foot house to hitting “add to cart” on Amazon and upgrading your smartphone every two years—are possible only because strip mines, oil and gas wells, refineries and power plants exist.
3. Let’s stop calling things like drinkable water, clean air, and land use planning “environmental issues.” As any parent or dog owner knows, rules are important. Contrary to the corporate jobs-jobs-jobs mantra, rules and regulations don’t kill the economy. Rather, they make communities safer and ensure there’s something left for future generations. Of course, the energy and mining industries add to state coffers and employ workers. But company owners and shareholders also earn cash by extracting natural resources—oil, natural gas, copper, molybdenum, whatever—from New Mexico’s landscapes and selling them for a profit. Requiring mining companies or developers to clean up after themselves isn’t thwarting economic growth. It’s just kind of like requiring them to wipe their chins after they’ve enjoyed a splendid meal.
4. Aggravated about media coverage related to climate change, oil and gas development or wildlife? Instead of reading free articles on the Internet, subscribe or donate to media organizations. (Reading a free alt-weekly? Buy an ad.) Investing in and supporting your local media will employ reporters who can investigate corruption, hold elected officials accountable, write about science, and cover issues that require more effort than regurgitating a press release. Write letters to the editor. Comment on stories. Rip pages out from the newspaper and mail them to your friends. Be an active news consumer instead of just kvetching about the media.
5. Nature isn’t “out there” somewhere. Appreciate what you’ve got right there at home. Enjoying the natural world doesn’t require hauling ass out to the mountains or waiting two years for a river permit. (Sure enough, however, both those activities are awesome.) Keep track of which migrating birds show up in your neighborhood each fall. Look up at the stars and down at the tracks in the sand. And for God’s sake, love your rivers.
Laura Paskus is an independent writer who lives in New Mexico.