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Climate change may ruin SF tourism, speakers say

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Coss says we have ‘moral obligation’ to leave healthier planet

Climate change got personal for some Santa Feans on Wednesday morning when the “I Will Act on Climate” bus rolled into town.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss told a small crowd in front of City Hall that the issue can’t be ignored any longer.

“We have a moral obligation to the future to leave them a healthier planet, just like our parents and grandparents handed us a better planet. We need to be responsible stewards for where we live,” Coss said.

He and other speakers contended climate change and related natural disasters could have a devastating impact on Santa Fe’s largely tourism-based economy.

Mary Wolf, owner of Collected Works Bookstore, said some visitors who usually return to Santa Fe year after year have stopped coming.

Wolf said her store’s summer business dropped 13 percent after the Cerro Grande fire in 2000. Delayed openings at Ski Santa Fe because of lack of snow have the same deleterious effect during the holiday seasons.

Even bad weather and natural disasters in other parts of the country impact Santa Fe by delaying deliveries, she said.

“Persistent drought and record temperatures are a bigger threat now to my business than Amazon.com or e-readers,” Wolf said.

Dan McCarthy, owner of Santa Fe Mountain Sports, said when he was a child in the 1970s Ski Santa Fe opened regularly on Thanksgiving with a plethora of natural snow. Now, McCarthy said, the ski area usually opens three or four weeks later “with a thin strip of man-made snow on one run which we jokingly refer to as the white ribbon of death.”

“The negative economic impacts on Santa Fe and the state of New Mexico are huge. Even if your thermostats aren’t directly related to tourism, the health of our economy is and that hurts everyone,” McCarthy said.

This season’s fires haven’t come near city limits, but Coss said the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau and local hotel industry are getting calls from people wondering if it’s safe to visit.

Coss also noted that when the nearby Santa Fe National Forest and other wilderness areas close because of fire and drought it hurts hiking, biking and recreational tourism opportunities. “Those are things we know didn’t used to happen in our community,” Coss said.

The “I Will Act on Climate” bus stopped in Santa Fe and Albuquerque on Wednesday as part of a 27-state tour that will wind up in Washington, D.C., in August.

It’s a collaborative effort of groups including environmental and public health organizations, according to organizers. The goal is to raise awareness about climate change and talk to people about what they can do about it. Organizers are especially trying to rally support for a plan introduced by President Barack Obama that includes placing limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Those who gathered at Santa Fe City Hall said they hope the effort will help educate people.

“We need to get the message across that climate change is real and you can do something about it,” McCarthy said.”The repercussions of our inaction will cost us more in the long run and the legacy we leave our children will be irreversible. We must act now.”

Ron Curry, the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 administrator and past head of New Mexico’s Environment Department, said the agency believes the way forward in strengthening environmental protections is for the federal government to work with local governments, non-profits and private entities.

“The EPA is here to collaborate but you folks are the ones that are really going to change things when you act on (the) climate,” he told the crowd.

Coss said Santa Fe has made progress in using cleaner and renewable energies, pointing to the fact that 20 percent of municipal government’s power supply now comes from solar energy.

“But we can move faster and we need to move faster and whatever regulatory or other types of obstacles are in our way, we need to get them out of our way and we need to move faster, for the sake of our grandchildren,” he said.

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