Clean energy, diversified economy the path to a new economy for New Mexico
By Athena Christodoulou/CEO CSolPower LLC and past president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association
Growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, I was constantly aware of the environment, and of how human actions can impact it. In fact, it was the unrelenting smog in Los Angeles that convinced my mother to allow my father to pack up the family in a wood-paneled station wagon to move across the country to North Carolina. The move meant my father had to use his retirement money to establish his surveying and engineering business, but the payoff was a cleaner, healthier environment for his family.
A lot has changed in the last half-century, but frustratingly, we face many of the same environmental issues. Our nation has had a dismal response to the growing climate crisis, largely guided by protecting the fossil fuel industry at all costs. Unfortunately, these policies have brought us to the place we are now — a full-blown climate emergency.
Why do I say we are in an emergency? As a tech entrepreneur and engineer, I believe that science should govern our assessments of a situation. So let’s examine some facts:
- 2019 was the second-warmest year on record, and the preceding decade was the warmest decade on record, according to NASA data.
- According to the Union of Concerned Scientists report Confronting Climate Change in New Mexico, we are getting more fires, more drought, and seeing a drastic increase in the number of natural disasters in the last few decades. These changes could even threaten the existence of our signature green chile crops.
- Even the scientists in Fourth National Climate Assessment in 2018, released under the Trump administration, concluded that there is a climate crisis in the U.S., with fossil fuel emissions being the main culprit, calling climate change an “existential threat to humanity.”
- The facts are clear: We are past the denial stage and must move to ACTION. And the good news is that recent actions in our state show that change IS possible. The 2019 Energy Transition Act charted a new course for New Mexico, requiring that the state generate 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. And this summer, the Public Regulation Commission issued their decision to go with all renewable energy for the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. No new gas or old coal for New Mexico!
As we all cope with the new reality brought on by COVID-19, I have chosen to see this experience as a wake-up call. We have all been forced to live life differently, demonstrating our capacity to make immediate and dramatic collective action for the benefit of humanity. And this rethinking of our actions has improved our carbon footprint. According to a report published by Nature, daily CO2 emissions decreased by 17% by early April 2020 compared with the mean 2019 levels.
This proves that if we act decisively and quickly, we can have a real impact on our future. How can we act? Personally, I made a pledge in 2017 to be fossil fuel-free by 2023, and thanks to an all-electric car and nearly all-solar home creating “beneficial electrification” (using electricity to power something otherwise powered by fossil fuels), I am well on my way to that goal. I ask you, what individual actions are YOU willing to take to save our planet?
I am excited about the possibilities when our state can transition to new growth industries, such as renewable energy, film production, technology transfer and tourism, creating a new economy for New Mexico.