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By Josephine Darling

Citizens’ Climate Lobby -NM

We know that climate change is already here, that it has been caused by our choices, and that it can only be solved by our actions. What’s more, we know that unless we figure out how to stop or reverse course in the near term, the long-term consequences are predicted to be nothing short of devastating —for New Mexico, our nation, and our planet.

What seems most disheartening to me is that we, collectively, seem willing to kick the can down the road, content to leave the mess for our children, grandchildren and future generations to clean up. If they even can. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way. We have better options.

Let’s focus for a moment on that whole “it is here” thing. If we have been fortunate enough to live in the beautiful state of New Mexico for more than a few decades, we have witnessed the creeping increases in our yearly temperature range and decreases in yearly precipitation and snowpack. That combination means our state is not just hotter, it is drier.

The change has impacted our gardens, our farms, our livestock, our natural resources, plant and animal life, our recreation and in some cases our health. A recent headline from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce read, “Climate change turns Southwest drought from bad to worst.”

The NOAA-led drought task force found that although the 2021 summer monsoon was good —well above average in some places— it was not enough to counter the cumulative shortfalls of the preceding years. The cumulative precipitation for the 20-month period was the lowest on record, dating back to 1895. 

As climate change worsens, dangerous weather events are becoming more frequent or severe around the globe, with wildly divergent results. While we are experiencing drought in our own backyard, other regions are struggling with increases in flooding, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans. These impacts can directly harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods and communities. It is for these reasons that concerned eyes are turning to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP-26) and looking for solutions.

How did we get here? In short, by burning fossil fuels. It is how we have conducted business since the industrial revolution. By doing so, we have made our country a world leader, we have grown our economy, and increased our standard of living. For a very long time we had no awareness that there would be a subsequent price to pay… and a very steep one.

But that was then and here we are now, in the midst of what can only be described as an existential climate crisis. The only way to reverse course is to slow down and eventually stop burning the fossil fuels that got us here. 

Fortunately, we have some exciting options available for changing how and where we get our energy. Just as New Mexico has become a leader in fossil fuel production, we are well positioned to swerve and become a strong leader in the clean energy economy. We have abundant natural resources (sun and wind) along with scientific and policy leaders with the know-how and determination to move our economy to the clean energy forefront.

The 10,000 panel, three-megawatt, solar array collaboration between New Mexico State University and El Paso Electric company comes to mind. The vision to turn NMSU’s campus into a lower-carbon footprint learning lab will both create abundant clean energy, with battery storage capacity, as well as hands-on learning opportunities for students, faculty, community leaders and policy-makers. New Mexico can demonstrate beyond our borders what is possible in the transition to clean energy. In addition, this project is an economy-stimulating job creator. More of this, please! 

And while our state budget revenues are currently tied to our fossil fuel revenues, this can be de-coupled over time. Smart policy can smooth this move away from fossil fuels to clean energy. After all, states that have done so much to provide the energy that our country has long relied on, should not be penalized as we make the necessary transition to cleaner forms of energy.

Our own Senator Martin Heinrich, who is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has authored legislation to assist fossil fuel-producing states like New Mexico as revenues decline in the coming years due to market forces and policies to curb carbon pollution. His proposed legislation, The Schools and State Budgets Certainty Act, would provide federal resources to create a predictable transition for states, counties and tribes,  and give those governments time to transition their budgets to more sustainable and reliable sources of revenue.

The last piece to this puzzle is a national policy to put a price on pollution. With a predictable rising price on carbon, combined with a monthly dividend check for American families, we can blunt household impacts as we make a fair transition to clean energy. Fossil fuel use becomes more expensive and therefore less desirable across economic sectors.

After all, rising seas, extreme weather events, wildfires, drought and flooding are not free. Weather and climate disasters in 2021 have cost over $100 billion, according to an October NOAA report. American taxpayers are shouldering the burden of clean-up, recovery and mitigation. Let’s put those costs where it makes sense —on the fossil fuels that underlie the problem. This in turn sends a strong market signal that the time to transition to clean energy has come. 

Fortunately, Congress is looking closely at solutions right now. They need to hear from their constituents that we want them to take meaningful and effective action. The non-partisan organization, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, has easy-to-use tools that help ordinary citizens to have a voice. Its website, citizensclimatelobby.org, is a rich resource for concerned citizens who want to act.

We will not be content to leave a mess for our children to clean up. They will look back and judge how we responded to protect their futures and our planet at this critical moment. We can see the problem and we have real options. It is our job to reach for a solution.

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