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A Great Aridness
Climate Change and the Future of the American West
By William deBuys
“A speaker projected a map on the screen showing predicted surface water runoff for the U.S, a half century from now. The map had just been published in the scientific journal Nature. Blue areas showed where runoff would increase, red where it would decrease. The Southwest burned red. I felt chills when I looked at it. If this is true, the Southwest was in for big trouble.” This was a wake-up call that sent William deBuys on a journey to learn more, record what he learned, and write a book that is both alarming and hopeful.
Water is life, no one would disagree. Getting to agreement beyond that isn't so easy. Of greatest concern, deBuys says, is that a vast number of people – more than 30 million – depend to some degree on the Colorado River.
“Most of them live downstream from the giant reservoir, Lake Mead, that Hoover Dam backs up.”
Two separate studies about Lake Mead concluded that based on various climate change scenarios failure (meaning the level of water in the lake falls too low for any to pass the dam and be available downstream, which is where the aqueduct gets the water it carries to various final destinations) is a concern. Add in the fact that Arizona and California are already living beyond their water means, the teams agreed that by 2026 the likelihood of failure skyrockets.
A lot of what deBuys writes about is unsettling. The frustrations come from a sense that some people must be convinced climate change is a reality. Based on the vast amount of research done by qualified and careful scientists, it continues to mystify him that people don’t “believe” climate change is a factor.
“We should get past this ‘belief’ business. Climate change is not a matter of belief, like choosing a religion or deciding to believe in the Tooth Fairy. You either accept this science or you don’t and if you don’t, well, that's pretty selective behavior for anyone who, say, flies on airplanes, undergoes an MRI, or uses a cell phone. The same physics that lies behind climate change also underlies those technologies. The same practices of science that makes those technolgies possible has also produced our understanding of climate. I have more sympathy for someone who rejects science as a way of knowing than for someone who accepts only the science he feels is convenient. That’s really not defensible.”
A Great Aridness is beautifully written. DeBuys establishes relationships of understanding and inquisitiveness as he learns more about the vast changes that have occurred, perhaps more evidently in the years of growing populations in areas where water is at a premium. He takes hope from the work of people who have telescoped their attention on matters most of us ignore, and take from that telescopic view a greater understanding of what is happening across the globe. Is it depressing?
“It can be pretty discouraging,” deBuys says. “But in the course of writing this book I have discovered that I am an intellectual pessimist but neuro-chemical optimist. What I mean is, the outlook is grim but the dawn of every new day is beautiful. I love writing the stories of scientific discovery that are a big part of A Great Aridness. I also love the stories of the inspiring people who are exploring new alternatives for living in the arid Southwest.”
Reviewers rave about A Great Aridness
Booklist: Starred Review
“With wide-eyed wonder and the clearest of prose, deBuys explains why we should care about these places, the people he portrays, and the conundrums over land and water he illuminates. No longer are aridity and climate change in the Southwest only of regional interest; deBuys is writing for America and we should all listen to what he has to say.”
Bill McKibbern, author Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:
“This is on the short list of key books for anyone who lives in or loves the American southwest – with scientific precision and understated emotional power it explains what your future holds. If you live elsewhere: it’s a deep glimpse into one place on our fast-changing planet, and you’ll be able to do many extrapolations. Remarkable work!”
DeBuys is the author of six books. He has been honored for his writing, including River of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction in 1991. In 2008 an excerpt of The Walk won a Pushcart Prize. Aside from his published work, perhaps he is most proud of being part of efforts to protect more than 150,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona and North Carolina. In our Writer's Block interview he came across as knowledgeable, realistic about the future and what needs to be done, and passionate about a cause that is much greater than most people realize.
A Great Aridness is available at Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, NM and in bookstores around the country. For more information about William deBuy and his writing go to http://www.williamdebuys.com/.
New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project
By V.B. Price
This Orphaned Land, New Mexico’s Environment since the Manhattan Project, tells a compelling story about how New Mexico has been affected by human choices. Everything from dumping of poisonous waste to contamination of once pure waters can be traced back to the intrusion of humans on the land.
Author V.B. Price points to the coming of the railroad and the influx of people that brought with it a myriad of problems. Progress couldn’t be stopped. The question is, “What now?”
In the introduction of the book V.B. stated that environmental information may be one of the more “…controversial and contested categories of knowledge in the modern world.” Because there is little agreement on next steps, problems continue to multiply and the clean-up is costly. And water, the resource most in contention in the arid southwest, is over adjudicated and unlikely to be replenished to meet the needs of a growing population.
In the chapter entitled, Water, A Desert Among Eons of Oceans, V.B. writes that it has become increasingly evident … that there’s more paper water than real water in New Mexico. He said that means better planning now about how water is used today and into the future. With decades of observing and reporting on the environment, the author comes at this subject with a wealth of knowledge and the compassion of someone who loves the land and gets it that we made this mess; it’s past time for us to clean it up.
In a Santa Fe New Mexican article about notable books for 2011 historian Marc Simmons wrote of This Orphaned Land, “Having absorbed and interpreted the New Mexico scene during a 50-year residence, Price provides here a stellar compendium focused on the state’s slide toward ecological degradation. His book is not only readable but a valuable reference work on the subject.”
The book is personal. This is about us. Our future in New Mexico is being lived right now in a changing environment caused by a multitude of factors, some over which we have no control; others we can tackle and fix. V.B.’s book is a must read for anyone looking for a broader understanding of what is happening to our resources and to our future. The stories are enhanced by the photography of Nell Farrell. These haunting images take what some might consider an abstract discussion and make it quite real.
V.B. Price is a poet, human rights and environmental columnist, editor, journalist, architectural critic and teacher. He is a member of the faculty at the University of New Mexico's University Honors Program where he teaches seminars on Greek and Roman literature in translation, urban issues, the U.S. Constitution, and world poetry. He is the series editor of the Mary Burritt Christensen Poetry Series at the University of New Mexico Press. He is also an adjunct associate professor at UNM's School of Architecture and Planning.
For more information about the book and about the author, go to http://www.vbprice.com/.
The Orphaned Land is available in Las Vegas, NM at Tome on the Range.
Tune in next week when the program will be hosted by Michael Siewert of Tome on the Range with guests Bonnie Rucobo, author of King Pachuco and Princess Mirasol, and Melanie Atkins, author of books about mystery, murder, and love...with a twist.
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