It can't be easy being a climate denier this summer. Record-breaking heat waves, freak storms, enormous fires, and the worst drought in 50 years are making it harder to ignore the reality of climate change.
Many meteorologists, network news shows, and public health officials are speaking candidly about the connection between extreme weather and climate change. These conversations confirm what so many of us can see with our own eyes: We just have to look outside or turn on the Weather Channel to see what global warming is doing to our communities.
And yet some candidates persist in denying the facts in front of them, even while their own states bear the brunt of climate change. Sticking your head in the sand is never a good position for a leader to assume, but it becomes downright irresponsible when people all around you are struggling.
Take New Mexico, for example. In the senate race, Former Representative Heather Wilson paints her opponent, Representative Martin Heinrich, as an environmental extremist because he wants to address climate change. Wilson, meanwhile, has rejected the idea that human activity is causing global warming.
Wilson likes to position herself as a moderate, but ignoring one of the biggest threats to your state's economy and well-being is not a sign of moderation; it is a sign of recklessness--especially when your state is as vulnerable to climate change as New Mexico.
In May, Governor Susana Martinez declared the entire state was in a drought. "Fire danger is high, water reservoirs run low and in some cases, we've seen towns like Las Vegas take dramatic steps to reduce basic water consumption in their residents' homes and businesses," the governor said.
Last year was no better. A dry winter and a dry monsoon season left much of the state parched. New Mexican ranchers ended 2011 with the smallest cattle inventory in more than 25 years. This spring saw more cattlemen having to thin their herds as the drought continued. Ed Polasko, a hydrologist from the National Weather Service focusing on New Mexico, says that even if the monsoons bring moisture, the state has been so dry and so deep in a rain deficit that it will take a long time to recover.
The Southwest has always experienced drought cycles, but climate change can make them more frequent and more severe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report confirming that last year's record-breaking drought in Texas was made "roughly 20 times more likely" as a result of climate change.
Hot weather and persistent drought have left New Mexico with tinderbox conditions. Last year's Las Conchas fire scorched more than 156,000 acres, consumed dozens of homes, trashed the watershed of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and nearly consumed the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was the biggest fire in state history--until it wasn't. This year's Gila fire is even bigger, devouring more than 265 square miles of forest and prompting smoke advisories to be issued from Albuquerque to Carrizozo to Roswell.
Many factors contribute to wildfires, but experts have been warning for years that climate change is making matters worse. "The effects of climate change will continue to result in greater probability of longer and bigger fires seasons, in more regions of the nations," concluded the 2009 Quadrennial Fire Review issued by the U.S Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.
The soaring temperatures, prolonged droughts, and intense wildfires now threatening New Mexico are hallmarks of climate change. Heinrich has responded by reviewing the science, accepting the facts on the ground, and proposing solutions to stabilize the climate.
Wilson has chosen to keep her eyes closed. Maybe she is afraid the Tea Party crowd will abandon her if she acknowledges climate change. Maybe she is under the influence of the polluting energy companies who release carbon emissions and support her campaign. Or maybe she simply doesn't have a grasp on the evidence.
Whatever the reason, Wilson has proven to be the true radical here. Only an extremist could discount the overwhelming scientific consensus and believe that denial is the appropriate response to persistent drought, hot temperatures, and raging fires.
Follow Heather Taylor-Miesle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NRDC_AF