KRWG

Las Cruces Earth Day Sows Awareness of Environmental Issues

May 1, 2019

Thousands of community members celebrated the ninth Southern New Mexico Earth Day at the Plaza de Las Cruces.

There, booths representing dozens of local organizations and businesses invited residents to take part in ecological activities. 

That included making seed bombs to plant wildflowers or getting up close and personal with insects.

City organizers hosted a fashion show with clothes made from recycled materials.

As models strutted down the runway, dozens of environmentalists marched downtown as part of the international March for Science. The marches began in 2017 in response to the Trump administration’s denials of climate change.

Organizer Hiranya Roychowdhury, a professor at Doña Ana Community College, said it’s up to grassroots movements like the March for Science to put pressure on fossil fuel investors and politicians to support renewable energy.

“We have to get rid of the fossil fuel money from the politics, political arena. So, as long as there are politicians that are being bought by oil and gas companies, we cannot get away from the current energy utilization mode that we are in. So, that is where politics comes in," Roychowdhury said. "Money has to be taken out of politics so only then we can, you know, move ahead with a greener energy."

To help get there, Roychowdhury said ambitious approaches like the Green New Deal are needed. The legislation, which was rejected in Congress, set goals to reduce carbon emissions and create jobs.

Public demand for alternative, fuel-efficient ways to get around has increased in recent years. Along with electric vehicles, ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft as well as electric scooters and bikes have helped fill that need.

Barbara Toth and her husband own E-Bikes of Southern New Mexico.  E-bikes let the rider choose how much they want to pedal, thanks to an electric assist.

“Bicycles are so environmentally friendly and we all know the great things of no fossil fuels and all of those great benefits, shopping and staying local," Toth said. "But then when you take an e-bike, an electric assist bicycle, you allow people who might not be able for whatever to use a regular bicycle. Those limitations are taken away with an e-bike. And so, all of the benefits of a bicycle culture can be multiplied by helping to get people on electric assist.”

While cleaner modes of transportation are part of the pollution solution, conservation also plays a key role in protecting the environment.

Grecia Nuñez is a public lands fellow with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. She said the designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which turns five in May, has increased the site’s popularity and economic value.

“I think that one of the things that we see that has benefitted our community is economically it has grown our visitation by 100 percent," Nuñez said "And so, we not only have businesses like the Organ Mountain Outfitters that have come up out of our, you know, of the creation of this monument, we have a lot of recreation happening here. We are a destination now and so this is such a great asset, not only healthwise because getting outdoors is a healthy lifestyle but also for economic growth of our community.”

Alise Ornelas lets her son Caleb hold a walkingstick provided by New Mexico State University's Arthropod Museum. NMSU was one of dozens of organizations on hand to celebrate the Earth and the species, especially insects, that inhabit it.
Credit Michael Hernandez

Speaking of the outdoors, educators from New Mexico State University’s Arthropod Museum showcased the diversity of insects crawling the Earth. To increase the public’s insect awareness, curator Helen Vessels is promoting the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.

“If you want to participate, anyone is welcome to do so. You can basically kind of monitor and actually update data online about where they're finding monarch larva feeding naturally around the community," Vessels said. "So, anyone in the nation can do this and update this data and you can actually look on the maps online and see where people are putting these data points on the map. So, you can actually find the distribution of these larva and the monarch all throughout the United States and it's all thanks to citizens and regular people helping out.”

To raise awareness about citizen science projects and climate change, KRWG Public Media was also at the event, part of a long-term project that also includes reporting like this story.

It’s not citizen science, but advocates say buying locally-produced food is a way anyone can help the environment. Chris Bardey is board president of Mountain View Market Co+op.

“The carbon footprint is reduced when you're not trucking your stuff thousands of miles away. You can also, the faster you can get the food from the grower to the eater, the less you have to deal with preservatives and things like that... there's so many ways that sustainability comes in when you're focusing on a local product," Bardey said. "Plaza de Las Cruces is also right next to our farmer's market, so to me this event is all about what we need to have a better future.”

The key, advocates said, is working for that better future every day.