How the rise of copper reveals clean energy’s dark side

This story is co-published by New Mexico In Depth and the Guardian US, as part of the series “America’s dirty divide.” Corky Stewart, a retired geologist, and his wife live in a rural subdivision in New Mexico’s Grant County, about a mile north of the sprawling  Tyrone copper mine.  

“We’ve been here three years and we’ve heard four blasts,” Stewart said of the mine, one of four on an expanse of land partitioned into dozens of four-acre lots. From his perspective, the blasts don’t seem unreasonable, given that a mining company owns the property and has the right to do what it wants. 

But he didn’t know when he bought the property that the company would propose a new pit called the “Emma B” just a half-mile from the wells he and his wife depend on for drinking water. “If they were to somehow tap into our aquifer and drain our water supply, then our houses become valueless,” he said. 

“We’re not making any effort to prevent the pit from being built,” he said. “All we’re really asking is for them to give us some commitment that they will fix whatever they do to our water supply.” But the mine refuses to give them this assurance, he said.  Freeport-McMoRan did not respond to multiple requests for comment by New Mexico In Depth and The Guardian.

Get the facts on climate change

Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency released two-page fact sheets about climate change in each of the 50 states. Drawing on sources like the national climate assessments, the fact sheets don’t have new or breaking information. But they do provide a good overview for citizens and decision-makers who might be thinking about the future. In New Mexico, for example:
In the coming decades, our changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water in the Colorado, Rio Grande, and other rivers; threaten the health of livestock; increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires; and convert some rangelands to desert. The fact sheet also lays out basic information for New Mexicans about declining snowpack, agricultural challenges, wildfire, and impacts to tribal communities.

Lessons in Climate Change

Climate change won’t just affect rivers and forests. It’ll have widespread impacts on communities and cultures. As parents, teachers, and community members, there’s a lot we can do to make sure all New Mexico’s young people are learning about climate change, the challenges the state is facing, and paths toward possible solutions.

Ringing in Climate Change Education

Watershed ecologist Krista Bonafantine wants to reduce political discussions around climate change and just get to the science of the matter. She think it’s possible to do that with students, teachers – and the public – by focusing on changes in the places people live and care about, learning from the past, and using science to make better management decisions.