Earth, air, fire and water: Babylonian cosmologists 18 centuries before the birth of Christ proposed a world ruled by four gods, each representing what Plato would later call the four basic “elements” of life: earth, air, fire and water.
Today, another couple of thousands of years later, climate change has taught us, not only are these elements basic, they are interrelated.
Here in New Mexico, and across the American Southwest, a 20-year drought has left our earth dried and our air heated, and together these conditions have produced a dangerous increase in wildfires and a devastating depletion of water, and things are expected to get worse.
15 years ago, Governor Bill Richardson convened a group of top climate scientists to predict the future being shaped by climate change. Just weeks ago, another academic all-star team of climatologists, hydrologists and agricultural researchers has published a report meant to project climate-related policies ahead 50 years. Their data shows them the dark projections of 15 years ago were right, except they weren’t pessimistic enough. New Mexico’s earth, air, fire and water are under serious challenge, which predicts some life-changes for us.
When it comes to water, the most defining of the elements in the arid Land of Enchantment, the new report sees a feedback loop … hotter air = lost water, which = drier earth and together they all = longer and more intense wildfire seasons.
Laura Paskus is an environmental reporter with long experience in New Mexico and the Southwest. Her new book, At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate was published by the University of New Mexico Press. She currently files regular Our Land reports for New Mexico Public Television’s New Mexico in Focus and publishes a online newsletter Our Land Weekly and writes for the Santa Fe Reporter and other platforms. She reports and edits for Capital+Main, and her work has also appeared in Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, Indian Country Today, The Progressive, Columbia Journalism Review, and High Country News, where she also served as Assistant Editor.