I’ve been on vacation for the past ten days, and got back on Tuesday, June 25. Great time. I took an Amtrak train trip all over the western part of the US: Chicago to Spokane to Portland to Oakland and back to Chicago. It was a chance to see a large part of the country I’ve never seen before, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to speak to a lot of different and interesting people, especially during meals. (By the way, the meals on Amtrak aren’t that bad, though for a ten day trip, the selection wasn’t real great.) But what I wanted to say about the trip for the purposes of this blog is the fact that seeing all that terrain in one trip brought home to me the seriousness of what’s happening to the environment we find ourselves in.
At first, the most unusual thing I noticed out the window of that speeding train was the amount of standing water along the tracks after the train left the southwest and went through states such as Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. Even up into Wisconsin and Minnesota, large areas of water had accumulated along the tracks, and the Missouri and Mississippi rivers were near the tops of their banks. Some smaller rivers had apparently flooded which in many cases accounted for the excess water. For someone from a state (NM) set deeply in a severe drought, the presence of all that water was, at first, surprising, and later disconcerting. Sure, the Midwest had experienced rains and tornados and lightning and thunderstorms for several weeks before I left, but I didn’t expect to see so much standing water. As a virologist, I wondered if that water will eventually breed mosquitoes which in turn will begin to transmit some serious and even deadly virus diseases such as West Nile virus and other encephalitis viruses, as well as dengue.
I also wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to somehow pump that water down here to the southwest. New Mexico could sure use some water. Albuquerque has just stopped pumping water from the Rio Grande–normally the largest source of the city’s water–and is now taking all its water from wells. Other cities are running low on water, and still others are looking for other sources.
But beyond the local problem of water, the heat and drought we are experiencing here in New Mexico point up another more serious problem, that of climate change. We’ve gone though several years of increasing heat in this country, even around the world, and the time has come for the US to make a stand and do something about it. I don’t usually get political in these blogs, but I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the US government’s inability to make any headway on climate change. I don’t have room to go into details here, but President Obama, whom I voted for (twice) hasn’t been the climate champion I’d hoped he would be. Climate change has been relegated to a lower status as the US deals with the revelations of NSA spying, which in turn has demonstrated that the US government, in particular the Defense Department and other national security agencies are operating, if not outside the law, at least close to it. Obama won’t do anything about the Keystone XL pipeline which could turn out to be a major environmental disaster, and he won’t make any headway in trying to keep greenhouse gasses in check. Granted, he’s up against massive opposition–Republicans, big oil, big business, etc.–but showing some leadership should be expected in a President. As the biggest economy in the world, we should be leading the way, but we’re not, as all that water beside the railroad tracks in the Midwest just points out.