Climate: Local decisions and the global realities

The rivers are running awfully low for this time of year. The norm has been for the Animas River through Durango to be peaking around now. It was a warm, dry winter and spring. That alone doesn’t mean much; droughts have been occurring forever. Perhaps this is just another hot spell.

Back in 1981, a group of climate scientists led by James Hansen, then working for NASA, published a paper in Science, one of the leading scientific journals then and now. The article, “Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” predicted global temperature increases during the coming century because of the huge amounts of carbon dioxide humans were putting into the atmosphere. It laid out a range of predicted increases depending on if and how the world’s societies managed their energy use. The paper, and its predictions, have been the center of a raging debate ever since.

Actually, there is not much scientific debate. There is overwhelming consensus among the world’s scientists that not only is the world’s climate warming, but that it is caused by human activity.

The debate is a political and economic one, often masquerading as a scientific one. Is there some scientific debate? Yes, but little. Since 2007, when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists changed its earlier position, no scientific organization of any standing now rejects the fundamental reality of climate change.

Back to James Hansen and his colleagues. The data from the last 30 years actually shows that they were incredibly accurate in their predictions. The world is actually getting hotter at a slightly faster pace than even their most dire prediction. Whether that trend continues, we shall see. And let’s hope it doesn’t.

Locally, there was just an election for La Plata Electric Association in which a group of candidates ran on a renewable-energy platform. Meanwhile, there are ongoing legal and political battles over coal mining and burning for electrical generation in northwest New Mexico, with the issue of climate change being one of many concerns involved. Last week saw Bike to Work day, always well-celebrated in Durango. The debate about climate change, and what, if anything, we should do about it, is hot and furious in the area indeed.

There are also a vast array of local responses to the concern about climate change, from the local foods movement, the Bike to Work everyday folks, to political action.

Are this year’s low river flows tied to climate change? Who knows. Will global climate change affect our region? Without a doubt, yes. Can any one local area alone make a significant difference? Perhaps no, but without local actions, taken across the globe, the issue will almost for sure not be solved.

We need big, dramatic actions to be taken by the world’s political and economic leaders, but they have proved unable to do so. Like many the world over, our region has many people not waiting, but rather taking their own actions on a daily basis. They deserve our thanks. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.