Climate change, an existential threat to the NM way of life

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Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen denies that climate change is an existential threat (Journal, November 6). He’s right about one thing: climate change isn’t a meteor rushing towards Earth. It is much worse. If we do nothing, we are infinitely more likely to experience a self-inflicted climate catastrophe than a doomsday comet (National Academy of Sciences, “Defending Planet Earth”, Appendix D, 2010).

The cost of inaction is the loss of our way of life. We Westerners know that “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.” Our water is essential. Preserving our culture requires that we defend our rights to water. This is why the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission’s 50-year body of water is crucial. It provides the scientific information necessary for the management of water supply and infrastructure in the face of climate change imposed on us.

All regions of New Mexico will be affected by global warming. Temperatures will rise 5 to 7 degrees. Evaporation will steal moisture from our soil and take water from our reservoirs. Carbon dioxide and methane pollution will cause our snowpack, runoff, and recharge rates to decrease, reducing our water supply. The dry heat will stress our thirsty pine forests, meadows and groves, leading to more extreme forest fires, erosion and soil loss. Our forests will disappear and our high deserts will resemble the low deserts of Arizona, forever changing our landscape.

The loss of our trees and grass will also make our air warmer, drier, and dustier, whether you live in the city, the Navajo Nation, the northern mountains, or the eastern plains. Less infiltration of water into aquifers will result in dry wells, loss of productivity and lower property values. The acequia agriculture and garden crops in many parts of our state are doomed if we allow this to happen.

Thiessen’s calculations do not include the sacrifices he expects New Mexicans to make. He thinks “a 2.6% loss of global GDP” is small, but New Mexico only accounts for 0.1% of the global economy. As long as his portfolio is diverse, he will not be missed.

Thiessen’s GDP ledger might actually come out on top. Some of our losses will be offset by the gains of others. Coastal billionaires escaping hurricanes and rising sea levels can afford to truck water and build airstrips. They will surely buy land that we now use for agriculture, thus contributing to any new emerging economy. This is how market-based climate adaptation works.

We can still preserve our way of life if we have the will. But, unless we take action, it will soon be too late to save the New Mexico we know and love. Maybe it doesn’t matter to a writer from Virginia. New Mexico probably doesn’t add much to their way of life unless they eat our chiles rellenos, watch our western movies, fish in our streams, or ski in our mountains. When mega-droughts and dust bowl conditions fail our valley farms and prairie ranches, he can adapt by importing his prime rib from Brazil. Its money will always go somewhere, so the loss of New Mexico will not affect global GDP at all.

“Adaptation” is surrender. New Mexicans must put aside our small political differences and unite to defend our water and our way of life.

Mark Boslough is a physicist who co-authored the chapter on the risks of “Defending Planet Earth”. Les McFadden is a geologist who co-authored New Mexico’s “50 Year Water Plan”.


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