I became an environmentalist early on in life. At about the age of 15, I took a look around, and didn’t like what I was seeing. I was, as well, reading science fiction then, which didn’t paint rosy pictures of mankind’s future. After a couple of years of college, at the age of 19 I became a ski bum. I attended the Exum climbing school in the Tetons the following summer, and immediately became a climbing bum. After returning sick from India in 1964, I re-enrolled in Berkeley, where I invented an individual major that I called “Human Ecology”. The intent was to research man’s obligate relationship to the environment. I ended up with a Masters Degree in Anthropology, and then returned to the outdoor life.
Throughout these years I would issue Jeremiads about the coming environmental apocalypse at the drop of a hat. But … I should have tried harder. I should have made more of a fuss.
Kathy and I founded New Wave Rafting Co., on the Rio Grande river of northern New Mexico, in 1980 and we were on hand for the incredible El Nino-fueled run-offs of the early ’80s. We couldn’t believe our good fortune – to be running a rafting company that allowed us, both, to make a living and that provided us with such stupendous whitewater excitement. There was, of course, the occasional year or two of drought e.g. in the early years of the current century. But then the snows would return, and we would recoup.
Today, we are experiencing what is being called the “new normal” – climate change that is bringing warmer temperatures and drought to the Southwest. We have already had two summers of very low flows in the Rio Grande, and it’s looking like we are about to have another such summer. The photo, taken in 1983, shows a ferocious rapid in the Taos Box, at flows upward of 4000 cubic feet per second (cfs). There has been insufficient water to run the Taos Box in these last two seasons, with high flows of around 600 cfs. We are now wondering whether we’ll ever again see flows of thousands of cfs, much less flows that allow us to again run the Taos Box (in excess of 700 cfs). Those years of high flows may be the “good old days”, never to return.
It never occurred to me, in those days, that what I was carrying-on about would so suddenly come to pass, and threaten my very livelihood. I should have made more of a fuss.