“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.”
In so many ways we’re enormously fortunate to live in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. We enjoy a chance to live, not just close to nature, but nestled within nature. “The environment” isn’t something “out there.” Our natural environment is where we live, how we live, how people and families have lived for countless generations.
When it comes to wind and water, drought, and fire—or magical blue skies, bright sunny days, deep dark nights, thick forests, historic acequias—we understand better than most of those who live elsewhere what it means to seek and achieve a sustainable way of life.
When tragedy strikes, as it has this summer, we are reminded of the ties that unite us and the responsibility that belongs to us: We need to take care of each other and we need to take care of Mother Earth. Climate change isn’t an abstraction. It isn’t a political debate. It isn’t something that will wait. Climate change is real and present and immediate. Living as close to nature as we do, in a gorgeous and fragile high mountain environment, we see the actual impacts of climate change right now, today.
What are our next steps?
First, and most important, we come together as a community. Jurisdictional boundaries between the City and the County, between Santa Fe County and the other communities of Northern New Mexico mean less and less as climate change challenges us more and more. Fire and rain don’t respect political boundaries. The City of Santa Fe sent wildland firefighters to the aid and assistance of our neighbors—just one more signal that we’re all in it together. Now, in the aftermath of the fires, our family, friends, and neighbors in Las Vegas face a drinking water crisis. Again, we’re called upon to offer help.
These recent crises remind us of three important lessons when it comes to public policy and the environment.
The first lesson is the First Law of Ecology: Everything is related to everything else. Nature is a system. Every part of it—and every interaction we have with it—connects to every other part of it. A century of fossil fuel dependency produces or exacerbates underlying environmental conditions. We suffer a prolonged drought and unprecedented wind conditions. That makes for an unprecedented fire. That produces mudslides and unclean drinking water. Everything relates to everything else.
The second lesson is one we’re already late in learning: The time to fix the roof is before it rains. Knowing what we now know—what we’ve known for decades—we need to get solutions in place before the next crisis arrives.
The third lesson is ancient and irrefutable: Mother Nature always bats last. As humans, we’re always looking for a way out of every jam—from quick fixes to longer-term technological solutions. Try as we might, the best way to get to a sustainable future is to embrace the oldest environmental truth there is: Nature and the laws of nature are eternal and undeniable. Until we learn to live with nature, we will fail in our efforts to ignore nature.
We’ve been working to live these lessons in Santa Fe for years, through our Sustainable Santa Fe Plan (santafenm.gov/sustainable_santa_fe_plan) and through investments in a sustainable future. The list of achievements is already a long one: Replacing our streetlights to make them more sustainable and less harmful to night skies; running the Solarize Santa Fe pilot program with the Santa Fe Public Schools; moving toward an electric or hybrid fleet; committing to solarizing all City-owned buildings; issuing the first Green Bond in New Mexico history; putting money toward creating a Green Bank that will help lower-income residents make their residences solar; incentivizing water conservation and developing a return flow water pipeline for our water future; becoming a LEED certified city.
With all these achievements—and more—to our credit, we still know there is more to be done. We need to adopt a green building code for multi-family residences. We need to provide more and better transportation options, to reduce our community dependence on the automobile. We need to focus on our land use development patterns, recognizing that more density is environmentally responsible, and sprawl is unsustainable.
Sometimes it takes tragedy and loss to remind us of the first principles that must guide us. Yes, we are extremely fortunate to live in Santa Fe, blessed with an unmatched quality of life. But no, there is no guarantee that it will always be this good. Our children and our grandchildren are looking to us, in this moment, to preserve, protect, and defend the Santa Fe of their future. They are asking for a sustainable Santa Fe, where we demonstrate our respect for nature, and live in harmony with each other.
In this challenging season of fire and rain, we have much to be grateful for. We have even more work to do to safeguard our future.