A severe drought spurring the Santa Fe area’s late-August wildfires and Hurricane Laura battering Louisiana are symptoms of climate change, which will require everyone to work to curtail it, not just politicians, New Mexico’s top U.S. House leader said Friday.

“This needs to serve as a warning to everyone,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján said of the fires and hurricane during a Facebook forum with climate leaders. “We need to act. Mother Earth needs our help. And it’s going to be incumbent for all of us to come together.”

The forum was intended to discuss the plan that Luján helped craft as a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The Climate Crisis Action Plan is a set of policy recommendations aimed at reducing carbon pollution “as quickly and aggressively as possible” while helping communities adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, all while creating a “durable and equitable clean energy economy.”

The plan calls for net-zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050. That means the amount of greenhouse gases produced is balanced by an equal amount removed from the atmosphere.

At the heart of this plan are working families who would benefit from a cleaner planet, which no longer would be imperiled by climate change, and from jobs that a green energy economy would generate, Luján said.

Luján bemoaned President Donald Trump rolling back regulations on the emission of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. The push to curb greenhouse gases and foster renewable energy is a hot-button issue in New Mexico, where the oil and natural gas industry make up a large part of the economy.

“While we recognize the role of oil and gas in the state, we’ve been forced to ask if industry are good neighbors and what will the impact on community health and climate be,” said Derrick Toledo of the Western Leaders Network in Albuquerque.

Methane, a natural gas component, is often leaked or vented during operations, Toledo said. As a greenhouse gas, it’s 86 percent more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, he said.

In 2014, NASA scientists determined that the most concentrated methane plume was over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, Toledo said, adding that studies have linked that hot spot to oil and gas operations in the region.

The effects of climate change in the state are also showing up as longer, hotter summers that intensify ozone pollution near the ground, he said, as well as more frequent and severe droughts.

“Our federal agencies are supposed to protect us from these kinds of emissions, and yet they’re systematically gutting our safeguards,” Toledo said.

Farmers, perhaps more than anyone, are attuned to “climate destruction” and its impacts on communities, said Serafina Lombardi of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

“We see the impact that a [wildfire] burn scar has on our watersheds and the hotter air on our plants,” Lombardi said. “We live the effects of drought and flood on our land, our livelihoods and our food security.”

Acequia farmers can be a great model for how to adapt agriculture to climate change, Lombardi said. They have adapted to changes, climactic and otherwise, across continents and through many generations, Lombardi said.

“As traditional farmers, we have all the tools to do this in a sustainable way,” she said.

She applauded the House climate plan for recognizing the need for federal dollars to fund soil and water conservation that’s vital for organic and traditional farming.

The climate plan also proposes making rooftop solar panels available to more people, including low-income residents and renters, said Arcelia Isais-Gastelum of Interfaith Power and Light.

Community solar programs would allow people to jointly finance projects with their neighbors and get credit on their electric bills based on the power produced, Isais-Gastelum said.

“Clean energy can be a resource that bolsters communities across New Mexico and uses our state’s amazing renewable energy potential,” she said, “whether that’s with homes off the grid, or in our towns and cities, or at the industrial level.”

Toledo said being a parent is a big driver in his climate work. He wonders what the future will hold for his 3-year-old daughter.

“Will she have clean water to drink? Clean air to breathe?” he asked.

(12) comments

Khal Spencer

Climate change has been going on since the beginning of Ma Earth's existence. But advanced human civilizations have evolved in a relatively stable period since the Pleistocene. Heaven help our ports if sea level shifted ten or twenty meters. Heaven help us if we had to make due with the early Earth's history. For example, prior to an oxygenated atmosphere. How we adapt to future change, which is inevitable, is the real question.

In 2015, George Will wrote a very nice piece posted in the Albuquerque Journal asserting, quite correctly, that small but significant changes in climate are normal with or without human influence. But what he also noted was that humans are incredibly sensitive to small changes due to our advanced civilization's reliance on climate stasis. So I responded with my own essay, both of which were published. Here is mine, with links to both Journal pieces.


Bill Nibchuck

With cities burning, democrats are desperately searching for something else to scare everyone into submission. Climate change has been occurring since the beginning of the universe.

Khal Spencer

In today's paper we read that farmers are struggling to grow alfalfa in a drought, so we can eat more meat. Well, if we really want to lessen our global impact, we need to look in the mirror.

Red Eagle

Climate change is a phenomenon as old as the earth itself. The geological record demonstrates this very clearly in something as simple as the sea level curves. Changes in sea level directly related to climate change were occurring repeatedly long before people inhabited the earth. We really need to focus on recycling our resources and cleaning up our trash for which we all can do our part.

Mike Johnson

Indeed, very true and well stated. Of all the large, significant changes in the earth's climate over the last 4.6 billion years, NONE were driven by Tyndall gases. All we driven by planetary and astronomical phenomena, like the Milankovitch cycles. Blaming fossil fuel CO2 for anything going on in the last century with out climate is unscientific and not supported by the science, it also ignores the vast majority of climate forcing by all the other gases and planetary factors that influence climate. In addition, to get to net zero by 2050, the equivalent of a large nuclear plant, say 1600 MW, needs to be added every 6 days in the US, and that equivalent of fossil fuels taken away, and that is impossible.

Mike Johnson

New Mexicans must fight allowing this scientifically ignorant nincompoop to continue in Congress. You think AOC is bad? This guy is more dangerous to American business and science.

Molly Mix

Again, I will take this woman seriously on climate when her streets aren’t littered with mini bottles and garbage. Every resource in this state should be directed at lifting people out of poverty and treating rampant addiction and mental illness. No thank you to squandering what little of those resources we have on talking points that appeal to wealthy liberals yet don’t solve any real problems faced by those most in need.

Red Eagle

Excellent points, the Governor should be focused on the things she has the authority to act on which would truly impact the lives of the people of New Mexico. However those issues won’t score any national attention, Hmmm, unless she is smart enough to see that solving the major issues you highlight could provide guidance for other states to do the same and really make a difference. Thanks for your comment.

Alasdair Lindsay

In the near future, it will be easy to look back and see what should have been done. There is no undoing the carbon in the world's atmosphere which we continue to add to every year. This current trajectory cannot be undone beyond a miracle occurring. That's just chemistry and physics and common sense. Bandages with lots of thoughts and prayers are what we are leaving future generations, but it was a good ride for all of us who got to live it.

Robert Bartlett

Does anybody think that shutting down everything in New Mexico would have any impact on the global climate? Then why is this politician pretending that it would? Desperation? Deflection?

Kathy Fish

The implications presented in the article come nowhere close to suggesting that

"shutting down everything" in our state is a solution here. You might wish to read a bit more carefully before posting your responses here.

John Cook

To say nothing of the fact that these oh-so-bright folks seem to think the article is about our Governor.

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