With just days left of the Legislative session, advocacy groups looked back at the dismal record of passing climate change-related bills this year. “The Legislature has failed on climate action this year,” Ben Shelton with Conservation Voters of New Mexico said.
The legislative session ends at noon on Saturday. Conservation Voters of New Mexico, New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light, Naeva and Moms Clean Air Task Force/EcoMadres joined together in a press conference on Thursday to discuss the lack of climate action prior to going to the Roundhouse to deliver letters to the lawmakers urging them to pass some of the climate bills. “This legislative session has been marked by dozens of bills, millions and millions and millions of dollars appropriated to address the symptoms of climate change,” Shelton said during the press conference. Those include appropriations to help communities recover from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and efforts to address water scarcity and infrastructure.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will be traveling to Egypt on Friday to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27. The governor has made climate change a central issue and this will not be her first time attending the international conference. Last year she spoke at the U.S. Climate Action Center as part of the Cut Methane panel alongside White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, U.N. Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and others. Lujan Grisham is a part of the U.S. Climate Alliance and environmental groups are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to model methane rules after the rules developed in New Mexico as a result of an executive order Lujan Grisham issued.
COP27 began on Sunday. Lujan Grisham plans to attend the second week of the climate conference.
Local communities need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, New Mexico State Climatologist David DuBois said during the Four Corners Air Quality Group meeting Wednesday in Farmington. The air quality group consists of state agencies from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico as well as federal and tribal agencies working together to address air quality in the Four Corners region.
This group started more than 15 years ago. At the time, the area was on the verge of violating federal ozone standards, Michael Baca of the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau said. He said the air quality has improved, but ozone levels remain a challenge and federal standards have become more strict.
“We have a tremendous task ahead of us to address the climate challenge,” Claudia Borchert, climate change policy coordinator for NMED, said.
Borchert highlighted the state’s efforts to address emissions including the Energy Transition Act, the natural gas waste rule and the ozone precursor rules.
DuBois provided statistics focused on the northwest corner of the state. Since 1970, the area has warmed on an average rate of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
At the same time, the southwest United States has been gripped by drought for more than 20 years.
While the drought isn’t as dry as past droughts, DuBois said the warmer temperatures exacerbate the conditions.
“Drought is more complex than just lack of water,” he said.
DuBois said dry soil and increased evaporation means less water is available even when it does rain.
A new website launched this week is intended to help people visualize how climate change is impacting their communities and to help communities plan for and respond to climate change. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ administration announced the new Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation portal on Thursday. According to a White House press release, the portal will “help state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and leaders better track real-time impacts and access federal resources for long-term planning.”
The site does this through location-based data about climate threats and information about federal funding opportunities to help prepare for and respond to climate impacts. The 20 largest climate-related disasters in 2021 carried a combined price tag of more than $150 billion in damages. There are currently more than 114 million people in the United States who are experiencing drought conditions and, within the last 30 days, more than 49 million people have faced heat alerts, according to the new portal’s real-time monitoring dashboard.
With the changing climate, incidents like droughts and heatwaves can be interlinked.
This was the case in 2021 when the drought conditions in the southwest United States triggered record-breaking heat, according to a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on June 18. Johns Hopkins University researchers Benjamin Zaitchek and Mahmoud Osman along with their colleague Nathaniel Winstead conducted the analysis. Osman and Zaitech typically study flash droughts, or droughts that come on very quickly. “We usually think about drought as being kind of more of a creeping disaster that comes over time,” Zaitech said. He said flash droughts come fast and can have really damaging effects, like destroying soy crops in the midwest.
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory modeled future drought indicators to gauge how climate change could impact the Colorado River Basin. “We really think that drought is one of the greatest risks in terms of climate change to the stability of the Colorado River Basin,” said Katrina Bennett, a member of the Los Alamos team that published the results of that modeling in the journal Earth and Space Science.
Bennett said that drought is complex, but using a simplified machine learning, or artificial intelligence, process, allowed the team to assess the changing drought indicators. The team modeled indicators like soil moisture, runoff, evaporative demand, changes in temperature and precipitation.
Bennett said her team saw a large change in soil moisture as well as runoff and streamflow. She said changes in snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin will mean that runoff from the snowmelt occurs earlier in the year. She said that is already well documented, but the modeling her team did found that even in scenarios where precipitation increases, the higher temperatures will lead to more of it evaporating rather than flowing downstream.
Climate change is contributing to the large wildfires that western states like New Mexico are experiencing, and scientists say humans need to make changes to prevent worse fire risks. New Mexico’s largest wildfire in recorded history surpassed 300,000 acres this week and it is not the only large fire burning as the state experiences hot, dry conditions and very low humidity. A study published this month in the journal Ecology Letters found that wildfire risks are going to increase in states like New Mexico. By the end of the century, the study states that “high levels of fire risk, which were historically confined to pockets in California and the intermountain western US, are projected to expand across the entire western US.”
William Anderegg, a University of Utah associate professor, is one of the co-authors who led the study. As he was studying climate stress and risks, Anderegg said it was a bit surprising, and also depressing, how much the fire risk increased in high climate change scenarios.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham highlighted her administration’s steps to combat climate change by reducing emissions while talking about climate change at an international conference on Monday. Her remarks came during a Cut Methane sub-national spotlight as well as when she joined the White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, U.N. Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and others during the America Is All In discussion at the U.S. Climate Action Center as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. Cut Methane is a group of 30 organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, who are in Glasgow for the climate conference. Meanwhile, America Is All In is a coalition of U.S. leaders who support climate action. During the Cut Methane interview, Lujan Grisham said climate change is an existential crisis.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for codifying New Mexico’s goals for addressing climate change while speaking at the state’s first climate summit hosted by House Speaker Brian Egolf on Monday. During her speech, she highlighted progress that the state has made toward addressing and mitigating climate change and spoke about what still needs to be done. “I think we should codify that work in the next legislative session,” Lujan Grisham said. That call was met with applause from the audience in the House chambers at the New Mexico state capitol, where the conference was taking place. “If we don’t have that framework in statute, it’s too easy to not move as diligently or as quickly or as effectively,” she said.
For centuries, acequias have provided water to farmers along the Rio Chama near Abiquiu, but now some stretches are drying up and the community is facing curtailment. With climate change leading to less water in the area—especially in terms of spring runoff—the acequia members are looking to make every drop count. “They’re not making any more water,” said Tim Seaman with the Rio Chama Acequia Association, while speaking with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, as they stood looking out over the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Leger Fernández visited acequias along the Rio Chama as part of her Agua Es Vida tour on Tuesday. The tour was an opportunity for the congresswoman to see first hand how climate change is impacting water users in New Mexico.