Feeling the heat: Scientists and policymakers launch new climate network

As communities worldwide experience the impacts of rising global temperatures, and scientists forecast future scenarios with more and more certainty, many policies in the United States—related to everything from building codes and economic opportunities to social welfare and water conservation—aren’t up to the coming challenges. Now, a group of American scientists and policymakers is trying to bridge the disconnect between science and policy—and help states, cities, tribes and small communities plan for future conditions and also cut their greenhouse gas emissions. “My experience is that decision-makers are very challenged by both the magnitude of climate issues and the complexity,” said Kathy Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona. “One of the things we’re trying to accomplish with this new network is more readily connecting people with information that is useful to them.”

The network can help people integrate science and community values into decision-making and understand how to manage climate threats, like wildfires and floods, while navigating legal realities or “preexisting burdens such as histories of restrictive zone, siting of industrial facilities and inadequate public health infrastructure.” Or, help local officials think about how to take advantage of new economic opportunities, such as renewable energy technologies. This effort builds on the scientific work looking at the impacts of human-caused climate change on the environment, economy and infrastructure.

NM Environment Review: Watching water, PFAS investigation + the militarization of climate change

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• Writing for Searchlight New Mexico, April Reese took a look at health concerns from expanded drilling in the northwestern part of the state. • MyHighPlains.com investigates PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base.

NM Environment Review: What do the Rio Grande, Mike Pompeo & student climate activists have in common?

What do they all have in common? Well, they’re smashed into a really full NM Environment Review. So grab a snack and strap on your reading glasses. There is a ton of environmental news this week. Usually, only email subscribers get to read the entire review, but we’re feeling generous this week.

‘We need to get adults to stop Tweeting and start acting’

Friday afternoon, Albuquerque middle and high school students took over a corner of the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Field—and then a busy intersection nearby—to demand action on climate change. Alyssa Ruiz from Sandia High School told the crowd that while the United States plans to spend more than a billion dollars building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2020 cuts spending on renewable energy. “When will our future be considered a national emergency?” she asked. Katie Butler, a 17-year-old student from La Cueva High School, was among the co-organizers of the School Strike for Climate Action.

NM Environment Review: Climate change ‘fingerprints’ in the 20th century + news around the state

This week we have a story about a new study in Nature that shows the “fingerprints” of climate change on 20th century drying. Next week, we’ll look at what some local governments in New Mexico are doing to prepare people for the continued impacts of warming. • There are two other recent studies worth checking out, including one in Nature about the risks of hydroclimate regime shifts in the western United States and another in Earth’s Future, published by the American Geological Union, about adaptation to water shortages caused by population growth and climate change. • Rebecca Moss with the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the lack of progress on safety concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory. • The Carlsbad Current Argus’s Adrien Hedden reports on New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s executive order to create a “buffer zone” around Chaco Canyon. The order enacts a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on 72,776 acres of state trust lands in the area. • Writing for High Country News, Nick Bowlin covers a judge’s ruling that reinstates the valuation rule, which the Trump administration repealed. We wrote about those changes in 2017, after the first time a judge ruled that the U.S. broke the law when “updating” how royalties are calculated on federal and tribal lands.

New study shows the ‘fingerprints’ of climate change on 20th century drying

Most New Mexicans understand that climate change is already happening and that its impacts will continue into the future. Now, a new study published in Nature reveals signs of human-caused climate change in the past, too. Relying upon computer models and long-term global observations, the peer-reviewed study shows the “fingerprint” of drought due to warming from greenhouse gas emissions in the early twentieth century. The researchers identified three distinct periods within their climate models: 1981 to present, 1950 to 1975 and 1900 to 1949. In that initial time period, during the first half of the twentieth century, “a signal of greenhouse gas-forced change is robustly detectable,” they write.

NM Environment Review: Energy transitions, plastic bag ban and more

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. We love when you read the NM Environment Review on our webpage. But wouldn’t you rather see all the news a day earlier, and have it delivered straight to your inbox? To subscribe to the weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

There’s a kerfuffle between Facebook, PNM, state regulators and state officials, over who has to pay for about half the cost of a transmission line to the social media giant’s new data center in Los Lunas.The Albuquerque Journal’s Kevin Robinson-Avila covered last week’s unanimous decision by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission requiring PNM to bill Facebook for half the cost of the new line, estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. From the story:

PRC members, who voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the order, contend that PNM cannot bill ratepayers for the transmission project because the line will not benefit retail customers, only Facebook and wholesale electric operators who need the transmission capacity to supply renewable energy to other markets.

States set plans for declining Colorado River flows

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president. The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

Tracking the methane boom

On a late March weekend, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard headed out to the Permian Basin, to visit oil wells on state trust lands. These are wells that churn out profits for corporations, build up the state’s general fund from taxes and royalties and send money to schools and hospitals. Looking through a special camera that detects emissions of volatile organic compounds, Garcia Richard also saw that the wells are sending methane and other pollutants into the air. “There are seemingly innocuous pieces of equipment, tanks, pipes, and then you look at it with the FLIR camera and you can see these clouds of emissions,” the commissioner said. “We went to some older operations, some newer operations, some [wells operated] by some smaller companies, some by larger companies.”

After last year’s ‘brutal’ water conditions, forecasters and farmers keep an eye on snowpack

Recent storms packed the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with healthy snow levels, and meteorologists anticipate El Niño conditions will persist through the spring. This is welcome news after last year’s dry conditions. But in the long term, forecasters and farmers still remain cautious. That’s because long-term drought has dried out the state’s soils. And reservoirs remain low, particularly on the Rio Grande and its tributary, the Chama River.