Opinion: No excuse for New Mexico not leading country in solar energy

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When I visited Israel in 1977, I made an interesting discovery. Every building in its largest city, Tel Aviv had a solar water heater on the roof. It was a simple apparatus; a water tank holding several thousand gallons flanked by two solar panels. And I mean every building, whether it was a modern high rise or a decrepit tenement.

The reason for this explosion of alternative energy, decades before it became more visible in America, was simple. Still at war with their surrounding Arab neighbors and cut off from their vast oil reserves, the practical Israelis needed a reliable source of energy. Seeing that they were blessed with over 300 days of sunlight, the solution was obvious. As was their brilliance in the field of computerized irrigation. To see self-sustaining greenhouse food production in the middle of the Negev, one of the most inhospitable deserts on Earth, was heartening.

When I moved to New Mexico years ago, I naively believed that my new home would copy the Israelis and flood the state from border to border with solar arrays. After all, we were equally blessed with an abundance of sunshine. Imagine my surprise and disgust to discover that despite solar centers here and there, New Mexico was still beholden to the fossil fuel industries. Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Jeff Apodaca had it right in his recent editorial on these pages. For New Mexico to forsake its solar potential is indeed “crazy.” Worse, it’s criminal.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, New Mexico is the sixth largest land producer of oil in the United States and holds over a quarter of the nation’s coalbed methane reserves. In 2015, New Mexicans consumed over 250 trillion BTUs of energy from natural gas and a little bit less from coal. The good news is that New Mexico ranked sixth in utility scale electricity generated from solar energy. We can do better, especially since our fossil fuel sources, especially methane, contribute greatly to the impending calamity of global warming.

According to a poll in 2009, a majority of Americans had “grown tired” of global warming. That reminds me of some guy standing on a beach and “growing tired” of a tsunami that is barreling towards him. In other words, Americans might have grown tired of global warming but global warming hasn’t grown tired of us. We are way past the point of debating its existence or deciding whether or not we, as a species, have a serious threat on our hands. One which could irrevocably alter the world our children and grandchildren will ultimately inherit.

This lack of concern has only heightened with the election of Donald Trump as president. His administration, staffed by former oil men and climate change deniers, is determined to destroy any environmental progress made over the past decades. Their blindness will condemn millions worldwide to incalculable suffering. Here at home, Susana Martinez’s Republican replacement hopeful, Steve Pearce, is also in favor of continued oil, coal and natural gas expansion.

In his latest film, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” Former Vice-President Al Gore is correct in stating that Mother Nature, not content to stand on the sidelines, has already weighed in on the debate. With weather-related disasters almost a weekly occurrence, no informed citizen can argue with increasingly devastating wildfires, droughts, floods and storms. Sadly, some kind of environmental 9/11 might still have to happen to slam home the reality. And, like 9/11, there have been ample warnings; all ignored by those who pretend to lead us. When an iceberg the size of Delaware recently split off from Antarctica, the event was disregarded in Washington D.C. Instead, Donald Trump was busy tweeting insults and Congress was stuck trying to screw people out of their health care. Perhaps when Americans in Miami, Charleston, Boston and New York wake up one morning to find several feet of water flooding their streets – water that will not recede - our nation will finally wake up to the crisis that was forewarned decades ago.

New Mexico does not have to wait for such a catastrophe to occur. Our local leaders should realize that there are more economic benefits available by harnessing the state’s solar cornucopia. Not only will it create new jobs but we won’t be contributing to the despoliation of our planet. New Mexico can be a bright, shining example of solar enewrgy being used as a dominant, widespread infrastructure.

Or, we can do nothing and let some other nation take the lead.

Brown is an artist, writer and former public school teacher living in Arroyo Seco.

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