Climate report paints dry picture of U.S. Southwest

July was the second warmest on record, just behind July 2016. And it marked the 391st consecutive month with warmer-than-average temperatures, according to NOAA’s most recent global climate report. Globally, the most “notable” warm temperatures occurred in Australia, southern South America, Mongolia, China—and the western United States. Those new numbers underscore the urgency of a […]

Climate report paints dry picture of U.S. Southwest

July was the second warmest on record, just behind July 2016. And it marked the 391st consecutive month with warmer-than-average temperatures, according to NOAA’s most recent global climate report.

Globally, the most “notable” warm temperatures occurred in Australia, southern South America, Mongolia, China—and the western United States.

Those new numbers underscore the urgency of a new report on climate change and its impacts in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the New York Times posted a report on climate change that 13 federal agencies had worked on under a mandate from Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts every four years. Many people, including some of the report’s authors, worry the Trump administration will quash or alter the findings.

Since the last assessment was released in 2014, “stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean,” according to the report.

Here in New Mexico and the rest of the southwestern U.S., scientists are learning more about what’s happening now—and what the future holds.

The Southwest is warming more quickly than other places, they wrote, and as winter temperatures continue increasing, less snow will fall, “potentially disrupting western U.S. water management practices.” Together, higher temperatures and precipitation changes will decrease soil moisture and increase drought. Hot summers will become more frequent, and, wrote the scientists, if carbon emissions remain high and water management systems aren’t changed, chronic, long-term drought is increasingly possible by the end of the century.

Globally, 16 of the last 17 years have been the warmest on record, and 2017 is on schedule to break records, too. In the contiguous U.S., average annual temperatures rose between 1901 and 2016 by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit or 1.0 degree Celsius.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue, temperatures may increase by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next few decades, they wrote, and between 2.8 and 11.9 degrees Fahrenheit by the late 21st century.

The scientists were also clear about why the planet is warming. It is “extremely likely”—that is, there is a 95 to 100 percent likelihood—that human activities are the main contributor to warming since the mid-20th century, they wrote. They added that there is “no convincing alternative explanation.”

The politics of climate

Most of this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

More than a half-century ago, scientists explained to President Lyndon B. Johnson that the burning of fossil fuels was increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. In 1965, Johnson’s science advisory committee wrote in a White House report: “Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years.” The carbon dioxide humans were injecting into the atmosphere would cause changes, they wrote, that could be “deleterious from the point of view of human beings.”

In February 1965, Johnson gave a special message to Congress, focused on conservation.

“For centuries Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country,” he began. “It would be a neglectful generation indeed, indifferent alike to the judgment of history and the command of principle, which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants.”

The president also spoke of rising carbon dioxide emissions: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels,” Johnson said.

Stewart Udall

“My dad was right in the middle of that,” Sen. Tom Udall told NM Political Report. Stewart Udall was first elected to Congress in 1954, representing Arizona. He also led the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1961 to 1969, under President John F. Kennedy and later, Johnson. Udall was an advocate for expanding public lands, including national parks and monuments, and was an integral player in laws like the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air and Water acts, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

By the time Stewart Udall was serving as Interior Secretary, the American public had awakened to environmental issues, said Udall, and the passage of early environmental laws was bipartisan.

That isn’t the case today.

“That was the thing I think my father was saddest about as he grew older,” Udall said. “He died in 2010, and I’d say, his last ten years—from 2000 to 2010—he just couldn’t believe how the environment had become partisan.”

The turning point, Udall said, may have been what’s called the Powell Manifesto. In 1971, just before he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon, Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Powell wrote of the “assault on the enterprise system” by “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” Businesses, he wrote, had only responded by “appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem.” He proceeded to lay out what individual companies and the Chamber of Commerce needed to do, including through public relations departments, by demanding equal time in the media, on college campuses and by “evaluating” textbooks.

He also wrote of the “neglected” political arena and courts. “As unwelcome as it may be to the Chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena,” he wrote. He added that the chamber should follow the example of civil rights and labor groups. “Their success, often at business’ expense, has not been inconsequential,” he wrote, adding that the courts provided a “vast area of opportunity” for the Chamber of Commerce.

Overall, business needed to become more aggressive, he wrote: “It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions, to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.”

Udall sums up Powell’s memo more succinctly. “He said, ‘You guys are getting killed. You should all organize, and you should get into Washington and you should use all of your power and your might to fight the things that are coming out of Washington,” Udall said. “They were talking about a lot of the regulatory issues, but they were also talking about the conservation and environmental laws that had been put into place.”

Presidents and Congress shied away from, or resisted, action on climate change. And environmental and conservation issues became increasingly political.

In the 1970s, Congress set limits on campaign spending, some of which were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, and also increased authorization of Public Action Committees, or PACS. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court upheld a case arguing that the government can’t restrict free speech by limiting campaign contributions from corporations, nonprofits and labor unions.

Now, Udall said, spending is out of control. And corporations are still helping squelch regulations and environmental laws, and movement on climate change. “You hear everybody now talking about how the system is ‘rigged.’ Well, it is. They’ve tipped it in favor of the corporations and the wealthy,” Udall said. “And they’re impacting government.”

Of the recent report scientists leaked to the New York Times, Udall said everyone should read the findings.

“One of the things I found most disturbing about the report on climate change was that the scientists feared that the Trump administration would suppress it,” he said.

By ignoring the warning signs of climate change, Udall said that Trump and congressional Republicans are putting the environment, economy, and children’s future at risk.

“Families across New Mexico see the impacts of global warming every day in the form of rising temperatures and extreme weather. Last year was the hottest year on Earth — and the third consecutive year to break global temperature records,” he said, adding, “President Trump called the Paris Agreement a ‘bad deal’ — but the real bad deal is saddling our kids with more drought, wildfires and rising oceans and temperatures.”

Report highlights related to the southwestern United States

  • Due to changes in future precipitation patterns, the Southwest may experience chronic drought, especially during springtime.
  • Rising winter temperatures will cause less precipitation to fall as snow. That has the potential to disrupt western U.S. water management practices.
  • In the Southwest, the combination of temperature increases and precipitation decreases will decrease soil moisture, including at root depth.
  • In the western U.S., winter and spring snowpack are expected to decline. Early snowmelt in the spring, and its impacts on water management, will be exacerbated with continued warming.
  • Under higher emissions scenarios, and without changes to current water management systems, “chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible by the end of this century.”
  • Hot summers will become more frequent, and droughts in the Southwest “are likely to be more intense” due to faster evaporation and surface drying.
  • Average temperature increased by more than 1.5°F (0.8°C) in Alaska, the Northwest, the Southwest, and Northern Great Plains.
  • While some parts of the northern United States, are projected to receive more precipitation in the winter and spring, parts of the Southwest are projected to receive less precipitation in the winter and spring.
  • Read the entire report at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3920195/Final-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.pdf
July 2017 blended land and sea surface temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius

 

Correction: The New York Times ran a correction noting that the report was not first made public by that newspaper, and that it had been earlier uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive. We have corrected that within the story and changed the original headline of this story to remove the word “leaked.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

A New Mexico-based LGBTQ rights organization endorsed 15 candidates for state House and Senate seats for the 2024 elections.  Marshall Martinez, executive director of…
Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed two bills the legislature passed this legislative session: one changing the Cybersecurity Act and the other concerning law…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

About 13 percent of New Mexico’s population relies solely on private wells for drinking water and this removes a level of health security. For…
EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced drinking water standards on Wednesday that are intended to protect Americans from contamination from PFAS chemicals. This is…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Good morning fellow political junkies! Early and absentee voting for the June 4 New Mexico primary begins in about a month. The nonprofit election…
San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County reached an agreement Monday about commission districts after the tribe alleged that its members were not adequately…
MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

New Mexico’s 2022 election was ranked most well-run in the country by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab’s Elections Performance Index.…
What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

Post-pandemic, New Mexico has had an extended run of low unemployment rates. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has remained stable at 4.0 percent since October…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report