Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen denies that climate change is an existential threat (Journal, Nov. 6). He’s right about one thing: Climate change is not a meteor hurtling toward Earth. It’s far worse. If we do nothing, it’s infinitely more likely that we’ll 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 “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.” Our water is essential. Preservation of our culture demands we defend our water rights. That’s why the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission’s 50-year water plan is crucial. It provides scientific information needed for managing water supplies and infrastructure in the face of the climate change being imposed on us.
All regions of New Mexico will be affected by climate warming. Temperatures will increase by 5-7 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 shrink, reducing our water supply. The dry heat will stress our thirsty pine forests, grasslands and bosques, leading to more extreme wildfires, erosion and soil loss. Our forests will disappear and our high deserts will resemble the low deserts of Arizona, changing our landscape forever.
The loss of our trees and grass will also make our air hotter, drier and dustier, whether you live in the city, the Navajo nation, the northern mountains or the eastern plains. Less water infiltration to aquifers will mean dried-up wells, loss of productivity and lower property values. The acequia farming and gardening cultures 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 that “a 2.6% loss of global GDP” is small, but New Mexico represents only 0.1 % of the world’s economy. As long as his portfolio is diversified, he won’t miss us.
Thiessen’s GDP ledger may actually come out ahead. Some of our losses will be offset by the gains of others. Coastal billionaires escaping hurricanes and sea level rise can afford to truck in water and build landing strips. They will surely buy up land that we now use for agriculture, contributing to whatever new economy emerges. That’s how market-based climate adaptation works.
We can still preserve our way of life if we have the will. But, unless we act, it will soon be too late to save the New Mexico we know and love. Maybe that doesn’t matter to a writer from Virginia. New Mexico probably doesn’t add much to his way of life unless he eats our chiles rellenos, watches our Western movies, fishes in our streams or skis in our mountains. When megadroughts and dust bowl conditions cause our valley farms and prairie ranches to fail, he can adapt by importing his prime rib from Brazil. His money will still go somewhere, so New Mexico’s loss won’t affect the global GDP at all.
“Adaptation” is surrender. New Mexicans need to put aside our petty political differences, and stand together to defend our water and our way of life.
Mark Boslough is a physicist who coauthored the risk chapter of “Defending planet Earth.” Les McFadden is a geologist who coauthored New Mexico’s “50 Year Water Plan.”