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Dry, drier, driest

First of all, let’s stop calling it a drought. A drought implies a temporary situation that will eventually be alleviated when the weather changes.

The term “desertification” comes closest to describing the process going on in the Southwest now. It’s a type of land degradation in which fertile land loses its biological productivity and becomes a desert. The Southwest is one of the fastest warming regions of the United States. Just as low-lying Florida has more to lose from sea-level rise than other states, the Southwest has more to lose from above-average temperatures and water shortages. We are stuck in the most expansive and intense “drought,” with long-term forecasts calling for intensification of the situation. Climate change is the main cause, boosting temperatures and increasing the loss of water to the atmosphere.

In the early stages of a traditional drought, planting crops is postponed, germination is stunted, producers begin supplemental feeding of livestock, hay cutting is reduced and grass fires increase. As dry conditions worsen, row and forage crops fail, early cattle sales begin, dust storms occur and wildfire frequency increases. As exceptional and widespread drought conditions prevail, range land dries up, planting stops and the seafood, forestry, tourism and agriculture sectors report significant financial losses. Wildfire danger is severe during this stage.

Sound familiar? The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reports “Drought ranks as the second most common type of billion-dollar weather disaster over the past three decades, surpassed only by tropical storms/hurricanes.”

As well as destroying our environment, droughts also affect people’s physical and emotional health and safety. As water shortages decrease our river flows and reservoir levels, levels of depression and anxiety about our economic losses increase. Conditions become ripe for conflict. There are higher incidences of heat stroke and even loss of human life during severe droughts.

Drought response efforts and mitigation vary from state to state, as do water laws. No single federal agency is in charge of water or drought policy. NOAA states, “As a result of a drought, government agencies at all levels as well as private sector companies can be forced to make unprecedented and sometimes controversial decisions concerning releases of water, distribution of disaster funding and rules for household water usage.”

None of these efforts address the root cause of an ever-increasing warming climate – essentially, we’re sticking Band-Aids on a spurting arterial wound. Only by addressing the root cause – climate change – by lowering heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere can we prevent desertification of the Southwest. Our country is finally acting. President Joe Biden has committed to cutting U.S. emissions in half by 2030, and carbon pricing is the least painful way to get us there.

Adding a price on carbon pollution creates a nationwide economic strategy that will spur competitive markets to produce the most effective and environmentally responsible solutions. It works by placing a fee on carbon pollution, and returns those fees back to American households in the form of a monthly dividend check, like a tax return. Instead of regulatory measures, market-based mechanisms like carbon pricing are necessary to ensure reliability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

The recent report from the International Energy Agency, “Net Zero by 2050,” says, “The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.” This plan relies heavily on carbon pricing to ensure it is people-centered and inclusive and ensures affordable energy for all.

A carbon pricing bill currently in Congress, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.2307), would match the IEA’s suggested carbon price. Read it for yourself and let Congress know your thoughts.

Let’s stop treating the symptoms of this disease and start curing the disease itself.

Susan Atkinson is a longtime resident of Durango and a member of the Durango Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, committed to the passing of effective national climate legislation.

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