February 23, 2020

How to Adjust to a Changing Climate

““In just one day,” she told me, “it burned everything away.”

Nina Wells, a retired Environmental Specialist with the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau, has over 20 years of experience coping with fires and drought. She was describing the Las Conchas fire, the catastrophic flames that burned nearly an acre per second for 13 hours in 2011, ultimately igniting more than 150,000 acres and threatening the town of Los Alamos.

Today, Nina is a board member of Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, a small organization trying to get out front of climate change in the region.

When I consider the future of the warming world, getting caught in a fire is the plausible reality that worries me the most. Come summer in Montana, I expect to smell the smoke from my front porch. When I lived in California, I regularly monitored the fire status online, studying the maps and watching the red dots advance across the state. Whereas retreating glaciers were once the iconic imagery that raised awareness of “global warming,” the stories of fire are now the ones inciting fear.

Journalist David Wallace-Wells argues that people need to panic. I think what we need is to work both individually and collectively in calculated ways—with a greater sense of urgency—to cope with the range of impacts occurring.

Whether it’s drought or fires, inundation or erosion, what happens at the local scale matters. That’s where the impacts affect individual lives. That’s where what people do in their communities can help us cope with the consequences of a warming world.”

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