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Friday, June 26, 2009

Guest Blog by Laura Paskus: Western Lawmakers Must Support Real Progress on Climate Change Policy

LauraPaskus140So, just a preliminary note to readers: I’d really hoped to get this commentary into print newspapers because I wanted it clutched within the hands of people who might not already understand the severity of climate change issues.

I was hoping that out-of-the-loop grandmothers and conservative middle-aged businessmen would read it, instead of people who already think a lot like me. But after hustling for three days, trying to find a newspaper that would run this, I’ve given up that it will make it into print in a timely manner.

That said, and with the House vote occurring today—and the Senate vote likely soon—I’m asking all you well-connected Internet readers to do me a big huge favor. Waste a little paper for me, would you? Print this out and hand it to someone who might not choose to click on a commentary about climate change. (If you’re really worried about the paper: You can paste it into a word document and use really small font.)

Our challenges are great right now. Only by standing up, reaching out, raising our voices in loud protest will tomorrow’s generations have a chance at lives even half as sweet as ours have been.

Driving west from Grants, New Mexico toward Zuni Pueblo, the morning’s clear light stretches shadows across the desert; lone juniper trees and sandstone outcrops dot a familiar landscape. But as I approach the Continental Divide, stands of dead ponderosa pines line the road; these are trees whose needles were green when I last drove this route five years ago. Today, their brown needles stand stark as stark proof against the blue sky that climate change has indeed come to the southwestern United States.

Later that day, the governor of Zuni tells me they have been experiencing the effects of climate change for about a decade. Rains are unpredictable, he says, as is the growing season. People have long eked a living from this arid landscape by using water wisely and paying attention to the signs offered up by both land and sky.

A month later on the Navajo reservation, I’m struck by haze from coal-fired power plants and oil and gas development; the skies are noticeably less clear than when I worked there in the late 1990s. On reporting trips from New Mexico to northern Arizona and throughout southern Colorado, I spot patches of dead ponderosas and dried-out grazing lands. And everywhere, I find people anxious to talk about climate change.

In Santa Fe, a former burn boss on the Santa Fe National Forest explains that wind patterns in northern New Mexico have changed—and most of the people living within those fire-prone forests realize that: “They say, ‘It wasn’t so windy before,’ or ‘We were supposed to get rain now, and we’re not getting it.’ They started realizing there’s a big change ahead.”

In May, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that without “rapid and massive action” climate change will be at least twice as severe as predicted six years ago—that means a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. The U.S. Global Research Program also released its first comprehensive report on the issue; key findings show changes are already underway across the United States—and their impacts are expected to increase.

Unfortunately, climate change is occurring more quickly than political change.

On Tuesday, NASA climate scientist James Hansen and former West Virginia congressman Ken Hechler were arrested along with 29 others for protesting mountaintop removal in West Virginia. Citing the connections between coal burning and climate change, they were blocking traffic to a plant owned by Massey Energy.

Hansen first appeared before Congress more than 20 years ago, urging that body to take action on climate change. For his part, in the 1960s Hechler helped gain rights for coal miners sickened with Black Lung; later, he opposed strip mining. “You are in politics whether you like it or not,” Hechler once said. “If you sit it out on the sidelines, you are throwing your influence on the side of corruption, mismanagement and the forces of evil.”

As a nation, we are facing an emergency—and yet the climate change legislation pending before Congress is woefully inadequate to greet that new world with much beyond empty rhetoric and delayed promises. Throw in a few boondoggles, concessions to the energy industry and the pet projects supported by lawmakers bowing to industry influence, and it’s obvious that the current Waxman-Markey bill serves as a great disservice to the generations ahead who will suffer diminished water resources, agricultural challenges, rising sea levels and increases in diseases transmitted by insects and rodents.

This spring, storms blew tons of Utah’s red soil into western Colorado. As winds picked up in the afternoons, people would emerge from their homes to look up at the coral sky. Twice I stood beneath red mud spattering down from the sky in rainstorms.

Until it melted off, the snowpack on the mountains visible from my front porch was tinted red. That dust hastened an early snowmelt and turned the river that runs through town a murky shade of red.

Such signs do not portend well for the future, and I wonder if my own daughter—three years old now—will grow up believing Colorado’s mountain snows were always red in the spring. Given her curious nature, I know she will challenge me when I say it wasn’t always so—and I imagine she will also ask why we did nothing, even when the signs of change were so obvious before us.

To echo Hechler’s words from decades ago: It is time to stop sitting it out on the sidelines.

This is a guest blog by Laura Paskus. May I say amen, sister? Laura is a freelance environmental journalist who has written for The Progressive, Z Magazine, High Country News, Orion, Santa Fe Reporter and Audubon. A former archaeologist and tribal consultant, she splits her time between Albuquerque, New Mexico and western Colorado and has been covering western environmental issues since 2002. She blogs occasionally at https://environmentalnewsfornewmexicans.blogspot.com/.

If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

June 26, 2009 at 12:39 PM in Climate, Corporatism, Energy, Environment, Guest Blogger, NM Congressional Delegation | Permalink


Thanks for posting this, Laura. I share your discouragement about newspaper coverage as well as political action to meet the pressing needs confronting us. Similarly, politicians are avoiding taking significant action on health care, substituting empty rhetoric for substantive change, see David Brooks column, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/opinion/23brooks.html. At what point do the politicians discover that they are living in the same world as the rest of us and will pay the price, too?

Posted by: Christine Heinrichs | Jun 26, 2009 1:58:23 PM

This columns speaks the truth. I am going to copy it and give it to some neighbors and people I work with and ask them to do the same.

Posted by: Susan | Jun 26, 2009 2:02:12 PM

I linked to this on my blog today. https://txsharon.blogspot.com/2009/06/western-lawmakers-must-support-real.html

I want my son and your daughter to know that I do something every single do trying to make a change and it's still not nearly enough.

Thank you for this powerful reminder of what's important.

Posted by: Sharon Wilson | Jun 26, 2009 2:21:00 PM

I am forwarding this far and wide. Thank you, thank you for writing this - and most importantly, for making me think. You definitely put things in perspective for me today. Thank you.

Posted by: Melissa Miller Young | Jun 26, 2009 2:46:44 PM

Sets the right priorities. We need to convince our members of congress to work for our interests. They are still obeying their masters in the energy biz

Posted by: JJ | Jun 26, 2009 3:20:22 PM

I wish the Waxman bill was up to the task but it's mostly smoke and mirrors. It is a cowardly bill designed to look like it's doing something when it's doing next to nothing to really address the emergency. It's like spitting on a raging wildfire and calling it progress.

What kills me is that the Republicans who Obama is so hot to please think this weak bill is a threat to something. The bill is so watered down to please Rs and bought off Ds that it's almost worse than nothing. People will think we've done something when that is not true. Nothing really effective will have been accomplished but the Ds can all brag about it anyway.

Posted by: Rod | Jun 26, 2009 4:45:48 PM

Dear Rod,
You complain about the bill but you give no specific examples. Are you critical of the related rates of the parameters?

Posted by: qofdisks | Jun 26, 2009 9:43:32 PM

It is just as likely that dead forest is caused by the water table dropping. Multi-nationals come to this state and mine the water from our aquifers. They justify that they are going too deep to "the brine" to affect surface water.
I keep hearing the Republicans say how our national debt is going to have to be paid by our future generations in the form of higher taxes. The re-payment to the Chinese and other foreign nationals is not going to be our MONEY. They will come for America's resources especially our water and energy. Observe the colonialist model all over the world where a powerful foreign corporation say in Texas, exploits a resource rich but weaker nation, Nigeria. Instability ensues accompanied by tremendous human suffering. Resources are looted to no benefit to the people on the ground.

As for climate change, drought can also cause the water table to drop. Also, the area in which she refers has had it's water resources ravished by the mining industry.

Posted by: qofdisks | Jun 26, 2009 9:57:01 PM

I'm getting the same runaround from the Albuquerque Journal about an Op Ed I have written on healthcare.

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Jun 28, 2009 4:03:58 PM

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