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.