In the face of chronic drought, entrenched ethnic tensions and a brand of racism that neo-fascists thrive on, it’s not untoward to ask ourselves, “Are Southwestern cities and state economies fit to survive? Or are many of them just hopelessly clumsy at adapting to new conditions, unable to join the winners’ side of the survival of the fittest?”
Take Susanna Martinez’s last gasp in office. She may have done little else, other than ruin New Mexico’s behavioral health system, relentlessly bludgeon New Mexico teachers, toss booze bottles out of hotel windows and spread ill will around everywhere she could, but now there’s an actual accomplishment of sorts on the horizon — sending 80 of New Mexico’s National Guard troops to the border with Mexico near Santa Teresa as part of our state’s chummy relationship with President Trump and his wall. The occasion last week was the start of building 20 more miles of 30-foot high iron wall fencing, or a bollard-style wall, as described by the Texas Tribune, west to El Paso, turning more of the borderlands into a version of the Cold War Berlin Wall, the one that President Reagan told Soviet leader Gorbachev to “tear down” in 1987.
At the same time, with no reaction from New Mexico state government, the snow pack in the Colorado, Rio Grande and other local river basins was reported to be at another depressingly low ebb, promising to extend our drought this summer to a 19th year, driving major Southwestern cities and states frantic with worry, everywhere, it seems, but parched New Mexico.
The National Resources Conservation Service shows the Jemez River Basin, for instance, at a mere 6 percent of its normal snow pack, the Chama River Basin is at 18 percent and the upper Rio Grande is at 50 percent of average. Some areas in New Mexico and southern Colorado went 100 straight days over the last half year with no moisture at all, prompting one hydrologist to call the situation “incredible,” according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
These unrelated situations, the wall and the drought, share a common predicament, one that operates at the center of evolution. It’s called a “mismatched condition.” And it means that when circumstances change, and you can’t adapt to them adequately, you are no longer fit to survive. Obvious extreme and artificial examples of mismatches are, say, putting hippos in the sand dunes of the Sahara, or chimpanzees on ice floes with polar bears. The mismatch is too great for adaptation. The same could be said for water guzzling cities finding themselves trapped in a disastrous drought to which they might not be able to adapt, especially if the very creation of those cities came about by “acquiring” water from other places with a good supply that are now going dry themselves — cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and now Albuquerque, all dependent on the shrinking Colorado River.
As Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman puts it, “Mismatches…commonly occur when climate change, dispersal, or migration alters a species environment…. Although mismatches have been going on since life first began, the rate and intensity of mismatches that humans now face has been magnified, thanks to cultural evolution, arguably now a more rapid and powerful force than natural selection.” Lieberman goes on to say, however, that “mismatches are by nature partly or largely preventable, if you can alter the environments that promote them.” This is exactly what most Southwestern cities did in the first place: they adapted to the desert by changing it through the expropriation of water from wetter places. But now, one has to wonder, can such places continue when their own, old survival tactics have gone bad on them? Can they re-adapt to the increasing pressure of desert conditions, especially when there is no new water readily available like there was in the past?
And what about the “the wall,” already a much-hated fact of life along the borderlands of our country and state? Is it one of those fatal errors that looks like an overcoming of a mismatched condition but really the creation of one? It’s a mismatch when you prepare to adapt to a situation that proves to be an illusion, such as building a wall to keep out hordes of crime-infested foreigners. When you adapt to an illusion, out of your own bigotry, you eventually lose, because the real conditions blindside you and defeat you. It’s just as much a mismatch when you fail to prepare for circumstances that are actually real, living under the illusion that they are not, such as the reality and consequences of a megadrought.
The despised wall won’t keep people out. And certainly won’t stop the flow of drugs. Those with persistence will be able to dig under it, undermine its weak spots, and even go around it in certain places. It is a massive waste of money, human power, and resources. And it will create the one thing that a drought-withered environment like the borderlands does not need — bitter ill will that comes with making enemies when we need all the friends we can get if some form of our way of life is to have any hope of surviving climate change, clearly one of the great mismatching calamities our species has been forced to face, and one created by our own hand. The wall will make cooperation, mutual innovation, and any form of pulling together next to impossible. It will be a constant reminder to everyone of the villainy of the United States and its present leadership. The whole borderlands will be behind bars. Instead of adapting to real mismatched conditions, it will create a situation that will thwart and frustrate survival by replacing the powers of friendship and mutual sympathy with a visceral loathing, and the wall will become a symbol, a potentially 2,000-mile long symbol, of racism, cruel-heartedness, Nazi-like hatred, the mental poison of boogey-man fear and a profound drying up of the milk of human kindness.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it
(Image by Rey Perezoso)