High fall is a glorious time in New Mexico. As farmers’ markets unload the last batches of home-grown produce, the lingering aromas of fresh, roasting green chile stimulate the senses. Pumpkins, soon transformed into scary faces, hop from the farm to haunt homes. Running down the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the bosque, or river forest, dazzles like a drooping ribbon of green, yellow and orange, nudging the big Elephant Butte Reservoir that supplies water to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
Nestled below the man-made lake, the Hatch Valley sparkles in the blooming white of cotton and the rusty red of the last stands of mature chiles that follow the young greens. Migratory birds are back- majestic sandhill cranes gracing the river valley’s fields and noisy crows scrounging school grounds for a meal. Increasingly urbanized, fat roadrunners prance up and down, coyotes stroll down Albuquerque streets and hawks and falcons dive-bomb for their next prey.
The fall of 2012 is also a moment in history when the sights, sounds and smells of politics crackle in the foreground. The big attention, of course, is on the U.S. presidential race, but the seats of power at stake extend from key Congressional posts down to the local flood control authority. Screaming billboards, glossy mailers, jolting radio and television ads, and strange, frightful e-mails convey different and often dubious messages from anonymous funders. Yet one thing virtually all the federal, state and local elections have in common this year is an omission, and a huge one at that: human-caused climate change.
In recent days, some media commentators have noted the irony of Hurricane Sandy’s deadly landing on the eve of the November 6 elections. Just days prior to Sandy, Washington Post columnist and TruthDig.com contributor Eugene Robinson took on the giant electoral taboo:
“President Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects. Mitt Romney’s view, as on many issues, is pure quicksilver-impossible to pin down-but when he was governor of Massachusetts, climate change activists considered him enlightened and effective,” Robinson wrote. “Yet neither has mentioned the subject in the debates. Instead, they have argued over who is more eager to extract ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal beneath our purple mountains’ majesties and fruited plains…”
The climate change omission comes amid a slew of studies that document record high temperatures, accelerating polar ice cap melt and the looming die-off of the world’s coral reefs, among many other rapid changes which have surprised even climate scientists.
A report this year by the Washington-based Demos think tank predicted that climate change in New Mexico will mean more drought and “devastating forest fires” in the coming years. The report also delved into the less-discussed effects of climate change, predicting an exacerbation of heart disease and other serious ailments.
“The impacts of climate change on public health will result in thriving illnesses and disease,” contended a summary of the report written by Dr. Robert Repetto.
According to Demos, New Mexico’s agricultural and ranching industries will suffer annual economic losses of at least $73 million per year by 2020, with the overall state economy standing to lose $3.3 billion per year because of climate change by 2040.
The local media and political response to the report? Overwhelming silence.
Projecting the costs of climate change are admittedly estimates, but the point of the Demos report is well taken. In fact, New Mexico has already been an unwilling witness to a changing, ferocious climate in the past few years.
Sub-freezing temperatures have chilled winters, and hundreds of thousands of acres of blazing forests have lit up the springs and summers. Irrigation water has dwindled to a trickle. Caballo Reservoir, a presumed lake that channels Elephant Butte water from Elephant Butte to cross-border users downstream, now resembles a large, muddy puddle; recently motor boating was disallowed on Caballo due to the lack of water.
Given the depth of the climate crisis, future historians might scratch their heads wondering how on earth such an overriding matter was absent from the year’s political discourse. To its credit, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico in its 2012 voter guide asked the candidates in the Senate and three U.S. House of Representatives races to state their positions on the issue of the century.
Readers can find an interesting array of answers, some clinging to denial, at www. lwvnm.org
When the votes are all counted next week, it remains to be seen if the real victor is not the party of the elephants or the party of the donkeys, but the party of the ostriches.