January 18, 2019

Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate

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Laura Paskus

By early April of 2018, the state's largest river, the Rio Grande, had already dried south of Albuquerque.

Walk around the Capitol, and much of the talk is about an oil boom that is buoying the state’s finances, providing more money for schools and whatever else.

But for an hour on Thursday, a climate scientist urged one committee of legislators to look past all of that.

“The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.

The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.

We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler added.

Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.

“It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data…. This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.

The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent Southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, questioned what one state of just 2 million people can really do to effect a global issue.

“What we do within our state would have no impact aside from harming our constituents today,” Townsend said, arguing the issue requires global leadership.

Gutzler pointed to coal in countering that the economy is already changing along with the climate.

“The policy choice we face here in New Mexico,” he said, “is whether to participate and be a leader in that effort or whether to fall behind.”