Climate change and the challenges to human happiness

It’s not too late to confront despair.

 

Sometimes I’m asked whether I hold out any hope concerning the fate of humanity and climate change. I have a hard time answering. I have no doubt that things are going to get hotter before they get better; Denver, for example, just broke its heat record for September, hitting 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Do I doubt that humans will somehow figure out a way to survive? Not really, at least for a few hundred years — maybe a few thousand, even. What ought to worry us about climate change is not the fate of humanity, or even of the Earth; after all, this planet has another 800 million to 1.2 billion years for life on it to re-evolve, wherever it leads. Rather, a climate in flux is a major challenge to our happiness right now. We have barely started to grapple with the despair of the modern age, and an unstable climate brings the prospect of increasingly conflict-driven lives.

Water from an aquifer that lies below Colorado’s San Luis Valley flows through a center-pivot irrigation system, one of some 14,000 that draw water from below.
Luna Anna Archey
Take the cover story for this issue, in which editorial fellow Nick Bowlin reports from Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a high-altitude community of ranchers and farmers that is finding it hard to conserve water. The state has warned the locals that if their current experiment in self-governance fails, it will step in to manage their water for them. That means they will lose some of their freedom. Yet it’s not always easy to do the right thing. Last year, severe drought squeezed the community pretty hard. When this year brought heavy snow and plenty of runoff, farmers felt driven to make up for their losses — pumping water to grow hay and crops instead of recharging the groundwater. In a less volatile climate, people would have a better chance of succeeding and sharing water. But faced with extremes, humans falter. Conservation yields to self-preservation.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief
Brooke Warren/High Country News

The ticking clock of climate change, in other words, makes it harder to do the right thing. Our health and happiness are threatened across the globe. The leading thinkers who gathered in Stockholm last month for World Water Week warned of increased global conflict over water, citing erratic rainfall and food shortages in South Sudan and Syria as examples.

From the San Luis Valley to South Sudan, climate change is challenging our values, forcing us to advance our ethics faster than the temperatures rise. And because the American West is more sensitive to this kind of change than much of the country, we who live here face the pointy end of this ethical challenge. But that’s where my hope lies. My hope is that people who care about the West, who read this magazine, will help guide the world through the challenges ahead. That means starting now and working steadily — thinking big, showing up and doing good. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...