If you’re like me, you’ve gone through a range of emotional reactions to the pressing issue of climate change. For me, now that wildfires are raging throughout this Land of Enchantment, it’s getting personal.
Years, ago, when I first saw “An Inconvenient Truth,” I was alarmed but not overly worried. I wanted to believe that America could lead the world away from fossil-fuels. As former vice president Al Gore had pointed out in his thought-provoking documentary, it was possible to solve this existential problem as we had done with the “hole in the ozone layer” crisis back in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. We’d do it with science, engineering and political willpower.
Needless to say, I didn’t abandon my career path to join Greenpeace or anything, but I did start reading more about the issue, and writing about it in columns like this one. And whenever a superstorm hit, I’d wonder how much of it had to do with rising global temperatures.
Heat does incredible things, you know. Too much on this Earth and it offsets the balance of nature. The weather isn’t the only thing affected by rising temperatures, so is life, from the insects on up.
I’ve always loved nature, but now it’s on fire. That hurts.
But that’s nothing to what at least one friend of mine must be feeling, after losing her home to one of New Mexico’s wildfires. Thankfully, she’s safe now, having evacuated herself and her animals.
Others, however, aren’t so lucky — if you can call my friend lucky.
I’ve been angry a lot too, with those who deny climate change is real, or that it’s not the result of human activity. Come back to reality, please. We’ve got to mitigate the damage we’ve already done to this planet, first and foremost by shifting our carbon-fueled economy to clean and renewable energy, and we need rational thinking in the process.
Hopelessness is one of the most painful emotions we experience, and I’ve felt that too while following the climate crisis. For years, a lot of people either minimized or flat-out rejected the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change was imminent if we don’t stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere. Trying to get that through a denier’s thick skull can be exasperating!
When a full-throated denier won election to the highest office in the land, I felt like giving up. Under his leadership, America decided to enjoy its prosperity while it lasted, our children’s future be damned, and I began to wonder if anyone could do anything about it.
But now, with that denier-in-chief out of office and we have a new president who believes in the science, so I find myself cautiously hopeful once again. But not because of our government; it’s broken. I’m encouraged by the private sector, which is already steering us toward a greener economy. Believe it or not, there’s progress taking place.
Still, that’s a world away when your state is burning.
For more than 10 years, I lived in Las Vegas, where the Great Plains bump up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Southern Rockies. It pains me to see what’s happening there right now.
I have a great affinity for Hermit’s Peak, a landmark mountain that can be seen across northeastern New Mexico’s horizon for miles on end. It’s part of the heritage, culture and identity of Las Vegas. My family has camped in its shadow and climbed its rugged east side. For others I know, it’s part of their homeland.
As of last week, the west side of Hermit’s Peak Fire was on fire. It forced hundreds of people (including my friend) to evacuate. It burned thousands of acres and more than 200 structures.
Moreover, the wildfire could potentially wreak havoc on Las Vegas’s water supply, which mostly comes out of the Gallinas River. If too much ash gets into that mountain stream, the water supply for a city of 14,000 people could be contaminated for months if not years.
And that’s just one fire. At the end of last week, the Associated Press was reporting more than 20 active wildfires in 16 of New Mexico’s 33 counties. Hermit’s Peak wasn’t even the biggest.
And by the way, it didn’t help that a warmer, drier winter left our northern New Mexico mountains with less snowpack this spring.
That’s climate change for you. It might take a while, but eventually it’ll be personal, for all of us.
Tom McDonald is founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange, which distributes this column statewide. He’s also editor and publisher of the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at email@example.com.