New Mexico’s drought is a climate crisis

While I sit here typing this, it’s raining outside the window in downtown Washington, D.C., where I’m doing a yearlong fellowship. In fact, it’s been raining for days. Meanwhile, back home in New Mexico, folks have been suffering through an extreme drought, even with the start of monsoon rains this month.

As of late June, 99 percent of the state was affected. I’ve been closely following coverage of the drought in my home state. Much of it talks about the cyclical nature of the fire season or the lack of moisture in the winter diminishing the mountain snowpack. Climate change, however, is hardly mentioned.

It’s time we sit, talk and learn about it.

“Climate change is altering fundamental weather patterns — affecting temperatures, water availability, and weather extremes — that shape the lives of New Mexicans,” the Union of Concerned Scientists reported in 2016. That means more extreme heat, more water shortages and more droughts. Climate change affects us all, but some more than others.

Those most affected by droughts and climate change are disproportionately people of color — like my people, the Jemez Pueblo community of New Mexico. A report by the Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies found that poor people spend seven times as much on water as wealthy households. And 13 of the 20 most water-poor counties in the U.S. were majority-Native.

How are my people the most affected? We live in areas outside of the metropolitan areas. We live in valleys and hills near rivers, fish and trees, where people can walk to community gatherings or even ride horses. In the place I call home, Mother Earth is the source, and we depend on her.

Without water, our rivers, streams and fields wilt away. Our irrigation systems are on the brink of becoming obsolete — and with it the food sovereignty we’ve cultivated for generations. Sadly, not only is our food at risk, but so are the crops we use in ceremonies.

Despite this suffering, we continuously burn coal, oil and gas to power our economy, warming the planet and endangering humanity. But New Mexico is a windy state with more than 300 days of sunlight a year. We’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of renewable future, but there’s hope: People at the Pueblo de Cochiti, a neighboring tribe of my own, are building solar panels so they can transition away from coal.

We have the potential. We just need to cultivate it. Until we join together to overcome the current fossil fuel-reliant economy, we can only expect the same or even worse. If you can tell that I am mad about climate change and water scarcity, that’s good — because I am. You should be, too.

Derrick Toledo is a New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is from Jemez Pueblo.

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