By Charlie McKee
On Wednesday evening, April 10, with handheld remote voting devices just like a "live" TV studio audience, local residents voted overwhelmingly that drought is their major concern over fire, wind, storms, and heat in current and forecasted long-term weather changes.
The second of three scheduled public gatherings hosted by the Town of Silver City's Office of Sustainability was organized in two parts: in the first hour, attendees were presented with five questions and multiple choice answers on which to vote, followed by audience comments; and, in the last half-hour, Dr. Dave Dubois, New Mexico State Climatologist, spoke on "Drought Impacts on Dust and Health."
The purpose of the forum at the WNMU Global Resource Center was to gather public input from Silver City and Grant County residents as part of the Office of Sustainability's "Vulnerability Assessment" of the local area with respect to climate change. The Vulnerability Assessment will be part of the overall Silver City Sustainability Plan 2030 that is being developed by Director Nick Sussillo and his staff at the Office of Sustainability.
The question-and-answer period was professionally facilitated and kept tightly to schedule by Mary Stoecker of the New Mexico Department of Health, and audience commentary was scribed. The five questions posed to the audience and the audience response were as follows:
• Which issue are you most concerned about: Heat, Fire, Drought, Wind, Storms?
Majority Audience Response: Drought.
• Who can best modify effects of the above: Individuals, Local Government, Federal Government, Private Organizations, Public/Private Partnerships?
Majority Audience Response: Public/Private Partnerships.
• What area of your life will be most affected by changing weather patterns: Income, Quality of Life, Food, Water, Healthcare?
Majority Audience Response: Quality of Life.
• What should be done to prevent negative effects of changing weather? Free form answers from the audience (no voting).
Sample Audience Response: Recycle/reuse; make local governments hear concerns regarding water and other issues; get more resident/neighborhood participation in Emergency Planning; educate residents about "permaculture" and regenerative agriculture to cover bare ground; and collect water during storms for later use.
• What is the best way to educate Grant County residents regarding the effects of changing weather: Community Meetings, Social Media, Newspaper, Radio, Community Websites?
Majority Audience Response: Newspaper.
During the second portion of the forum, Dr. DuBois briefly reviewed the salient points of his Feb. 19, 2013 presentation. He reiterated that, in the Southwest New Mexico Mountain Range area of which Grant County is part, the area is in a prolonged period of decreasing snowpack levels and increasing heat. These conditions exacerbate the levels of dust (particulate matter) in the air and the chance of wildfires.
DuBois then explained the direct relationship between these climactic and environmental conditions and their negative impact on the health of area residents. This relationship can be statistically demonstrated by the increase in the number of hospital admissions as a result of these conditions.
Dust storms and wildfires pose major health risks in the following areas: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever). Valley Fever is of particular concern in that it is underreported in New Mexico due to lack of adequate diagnosis and lack of education for health providers and victims regarding the fungal infection.
DuBois noted that, while great strides have been made in reducing pollution and ozone factors in the United States since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990, the climate cycle in which we are living in the Southwest requires us to act locally to mitigate climate-caused conditions. For example, in his local area of Las Cruces, pecan mulch is an inexpensive ground cover to reduce dust. DuBois urged the audience to work together to create innovative solutions that are suited to the local area and use local resources.