No one can say the people of Earth have not been warned.
Climate change is here, it’s real and the window to stop its progression is rapidly closing.
Let’s not call it climate change anymore. The planet is in the midst of a climate emergency, with the future looking hotter, drier and bleaker.
This month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report cannot be ignored. The body of scientists convened by the United Nations spelled out in compelling detail what the future we want to avoid looks like. The report makes clear humans are the cause of global warming, with a grim conclusion. Nearly all the rise in global average temperatures since the 19th century have been driven by nations burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and unloading into the atmosphere greenhouse gases that trap heat.
To save the future, nations, states, private industries and individuals must change their habits to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
That’s why the switch from burning fossil fuels for energy to renewable power is essential. It’s also why New Mexico and the United States must control methane gases and other pollutants.
If we can coordinate efforts to stop carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, temperatures will rise, but not to a point that makes life unbearable. Global warming would level off, with temperatures around 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter but no more. That’s not optimal. It is livable. Should global average temperatures keep rising, passing 2 degrees or 3 degrees or, heaven forbid, 4 degrees Celsius compared to the preindustrial world, the danger to humanity is exacerbated.
The report, based on 14,000 studies and approved by 195 governments, will be considered in November at a United Nations summit in Scotland to once again discuss how countries can increase efforts to reduce emissions. The goal from many world leaders, including President Joe Biden, is to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
If we act quickly across the world, we can change the future.
Under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state has taken a number of important steps to reverse the climate emergency. An early executive order committed New Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030. A landmark Energy Transition Act requires 100 percent carbon-free electricity in New Mexico by 2050. Rules to require 98 percent gas capture by 2026 and to reduce methane emissions have been adopted or are in the process of adoption. The oil and gas industry is the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and these rules will reduce the industry’s pollution footprint.
But oil and gas is just one area the state is addressing. The second greenhouse gas emitter is transportation, and the governor has worked to increase the availability of zero- and low-emission vehicles in the state. A Clean Fuel Standard is being updated as soon as the next legislative session and the state is shoring up electric vehicle infrastructure. Cities and counties should also work with the state to improve mass transit and improve conditions for biking and walking; we need fewer cars and trucks on the road.
The governor’s Interagency Climate Change Task Force meets quarterly — making climate action part of the day-to-day work in every state agency. With emissions reduced at 30 state buildings, taxpayers save $1.1 million a year in energy costs. New Mexico is focusing on building new industries to replace oil and gas so its economy can thrive. Solar tax credits are being issued — some 2,000 to businesses and individuals — and building codes have been updated to emphasize energy savings.
Cities and counties are making their own efforts, too. Among other initiatives, Santa Fe is working on making its canopy of trees more resilient; along with that work, there must be more emphasis on planting water-wise trees across private and public property. That means emphasizing rain catchment and water storage so these trees have an opportunity to live.
Local governments should have their own climate task forces and should talk to one another so we are working together toward a common goal. All decisions must be seen through the lens of the looming climate crisis.
The news is grim, but enough time remains — just barely — to write a different future.