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First Person

Climate Inaction: With climate change, it’s up to communities to save themselves

November 30, 2011, 12:00 am

Don’t believe in climate change? Congratulations. But this isn’t the Rapture. Whether you believe or not, you’re coming along for the ride. This means that, if you live in New Mexico, you’re going to experience higher temperatures, worsening drought conditions, conifer forest die-offs and variable precipitation.
I was reminded of all this while attending the recent Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change, sponsored in part by Los Alamos National Laboratory. 


Sitting next to Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, as he readied for his presentation, I was also reminded that, in the United States, charlatans and industry-funded hacks are still allowed to share the stage with scientists. 


Noted for his obfuscatory talks aimed at discrediting climate data and challenging what he calls the “intellectual dishonesty” of climate scientists, Monckton stayed true to form at the LANL conference, playing with numbers, shrugging off serious questions and suggesting that scientists were noting rises in global temperature only because it’s a trendy idea and they’re out to grab gads of funding.  


Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by Monckton’s presence: One of the conference committee members was LANL’s Petr Chylek, who in 2009 took the climate science community to task for blaming global warming trends on human activity.


(So much for the notion that the lab could someday transition away from nuclear weapons and become a “green” laboratory. Infrastructure issues aside, the lab isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of science when it comes to the planet’s most pressing “green” issue.)


Despite what economists and even insurance company executives worldwide are saying, Monckton asserted that addressing climate change is not cost-effective. “By orders of magnitude,” he concluded, “it’s more expensive to act than not to act.”


Monckton’s do-nothing approach stands in stark contrast to that of author and activist Bill McKibben, who a few days later spoke at the Quivira Coalition conference with William deBuys, who just recently wrote A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.


The two spoke of the changes that have already occurred—temperature increases, melting sea ice and expanding tropics—but also of what deBuys called the “ethics of community.” 


Now more than ever, both men agreed, people should heal divisions and work together. “The unbearable beauty of the land, the beauty of the planet, need to continue to drive us,” deBuys said. “We need to do whatever we can to bring our polity back.”


This week in South Africa, the United Nations will convene its 17th annual meeting on climate change. While islanders experiencing rising seas beg for help, and developing countries seek ways to build their economies without relying on fossil fuels, the US and Saudi Arabia now oppose a $100 billion fund agreed upon in 2009 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Revealed just days before the meetings began, the move is devastating. But it shouldn’t be surprising.
Last year, the Democrat-controlled Congress refused to pass even tepid climate change legislation, and this year, none of the Republican presidential candidates acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. On top of that, The Washington Post reports that Congress recently barred the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from creating a “one-stop” website for climate information. The proposal wouldn’t have required additional funding, yet Congress still opposed it. 


Witnessing the actions of US officials and lawmakers, it’s clear that the planet lacks international leadership on climate change. 


It’s also sobering to realize that New Mexicans have more in common with developing nations than we likely realize. Like Pacific Islanders staring down rising seas, Southwesterners are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. And yet the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has made it clear that state government won’t be proactive on climate change. 


With politicians on both sides of the aisle—from President Barack Obama to Martinez—undermining the seriousness of the issue, it’s more important than ever to heed the advice of people, such as McKibben and deBuys, who call for civility.


“Everyplace, there are good people trying to figure out how to try and stop the worst thing that could ever happen,” McKibben said in early November. “Everyplace around the world, there are rooms like this one, full of people trying to figure out what to do to make it better.”


In fact, on Dec. 14, the City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County and the US Bureau of Reclamation will host an interactive workshop to discuss the future of the Santa Fe watershed, its water supply and the potential impacts of climate change on both. As of press time, the details were still being hammered out, but so far, only real scientists are on the agenda. 


For more information, email the City of Santa Fe’s Claudia Borchert at cborchert@santafenm.gov.

 

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