Albuquerque residents coping with the COVID-19 pandemic have flocked to the Rio Grande this spring and summer in droves, said John Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico. “What we’re seeing in Albuquerque is stunning. People are in the river in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Fleck told NM Political Report. “People are out wading in the river, splashing around, playing, setting up family picnics on the emerging sand banks.”
That fun may soon come to an abrupt end. For the first time in decades, Albuquerque is facing a dry Rio Grande.
The scientists who study how diseases emerge in a changing environment knew this moment was coming. Climate change is making outbreaks of disease more common and more dangerous.
Over the past few decades, the number of emerging infectious diseases that spread to people — especially coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses believed to have come from bats and birds — has skyrocketed. A new emerging disease surfaces five times a year. One study estimates that more than 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, awaiting an opportunity to jump to people.
Thousands of students walked out of school and adults left work across New Mexico as part of massive international climate protests. In Albuquerque a large crowd took part in large a rally downtown on Friday with hundreds, likely over 1,000, people. The rally included local artists, politicians and students speaking about the impact of climate change and the need to immediately address it. Most of the speakers were local youth. Alyssa Ruiz, the founder of the Sandia High School Climate Club, spoke to the crowd and called on zero emissions by 2050.
ByLisa Song, ProPublica, and Paula Moura for ProPublica |
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Next month, California regulators will decide whether to support a plan for tropical forest carbon offsets, a controversial measure that could allow companies like Chevron, which is headquartered there, to write off some of their greenhouse gas emissions by paying people in countries like Brazil to preserve trees. The Amazon rainforest has long been viewed as a natural testing ground for this proposed Tropical Forest Standard, which, if approved, would likely expand to countries throughout the world. Now that record fires are engulfing the Amazon, started by humans seeking to log, mine and farm on the land, supporters are using the international emergency to double down on their case for offsets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.