This heat wave is killing me. I don’t think that I am genetically programmed for heat. My family has Basque blood in us, and my ancestors were sheepherders and loggers who passed their time in the cool mountains of northern New Mexico in the Mora Valley. I now live in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, which as part of the greater El Paso/Juarez metro area, has had triple digit temperatures for 39 consecutive days as I write this article. El Paso has become what Phoenix used to be. Phoenix, in turn, has gone to uncharted territory, breaking records for the most consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degrees. Last year, Portland, Oregon, which is surrounded by rainforests, hit a high of 116 degrees.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the “earth’s temperature has risen by an average of 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1980, or about 2 degrees in total.” However, the rate of rising temperatures since 1981 is more than twice as fast, or 0.32 degrees per decade. Last year was the sixth-warmest year recorded, and the 10 warmest years in recorded history have all occurred since 2010. It’s hard to not believe in climate change, but some people still don’t.
People with less economic means suffer the most with the heat. Many don’t have A/C systems. Some have evaporative coolers that do not sufficiently cool a house when temperatures rise above 100 degrees. When I lived in Mexico City, HVAC systems were not so common in ordinary houses, as the weather traditionally has been temperate. However, many Mexican households are now finding it unbearable to deal with the heat.
When I am driving the Border Highway from New Mexico into El Paso, I look across the border at Anapra, which is a neighborhood on Juarez’s west end, and see houses constructed with any materials available, including pallets and cardboard. I doubt that many of these dwellings have refrigerated air. Is it any wonder that these people would want to seek better economic circumstances by trying to migrate to the U.S.? If I were in their situation, I would do the same for my family. I think about these people when I am complaining about the heat and starting a car that feels like an oven. It puts things in perspective and makes me feel more guilty than grateful.
Traveling east from Sunland Park, New Mexico, where the Rio Grande first becomes the border between the U.S. and Mexico, you see crowds of people in Mexico on the south bank of the river in west Juarez. In most places in the U.S., we go to rivers and bodies of water for recreational purposes in summer. Many of the people I’m seeing at the river in Juarez are there to cool off and to survive the heat – recreational purposes are secondary.
Climate change is the great global uniter. We all share this planet and this threat. I was very excited to have recently seen the excellent movie Oppenheimer, having read the novel two years ago that led to the film. It amazes me that the U.S. could put together in three years a monumental effort called the Manhattan Project to create nuclear weapons at a secret city, Los Alamos, that was literally being built while Oppenheimer’s team was doing its work.
Why can’t the world put together a Manhattan Project aimed at slowing down the climate change that is resulting in higher temperatures and crazy weather? Nothing is impossible, but does desperation have to set in before we go all-in on attacking climate change? The U.S. and China, the two largest economies on earth and generators of the most greenhouse gasses that global warming is are attributed to, can’t even agree on solid cooperative efforts on combatting climate change going forward. Will it take continued drought, crop failures, melting glaciers, devastating fires, and death to finally move the needle? Perhaps, I am dreaming and too naive that a Manhattan Project on climate change can actually be created in the midst of self-serving politics and interests.
During the last 10 years, I have become more and more diligent about recycling or reusing everything I can. I have seen images of tons of plastic being dumped in the ocean, killing sea life. I’ve seen pictures of major Indian cities where visibility is so restricted that it is hard to see to the next block. One of my staff showed me pictures she took of a jungle river in Chiapas that was flowing trash. I visit family in the northern New Mexico Rocky Mountains, and I see broken beer bottles and fast-food bags thrown on the side of the road.
Collectively, pressure must be put on policymakers not to ignore global warming and to actively form coalitions that can take positive steps to slow it down. Individually, we can still make a difference by reducing our personal carbon footprint. I am making a conscious effort to battle global warming by generating less waste. However, I, like most of us, have contributed to the problem we all face today. Sometimes, I just want to go back and live in the mountains where it is cool. However, drought and horrible forest fires caused by global warming are making this less and less likely.