Colorado River-Climate Change

The Colorado River Conversations Conference included discussions about the tensions between the use of natural resources, economic and political concerns, and the needs of our environment.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

As a 17-year-old member of Gen-Z, arguably the most environmentally aware generation in our planet’s history, I’ve spent the majority of my life fearing the consequences of climate change and searching desperately for solutions. So when Kathy Jacobs, the director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona, invited me to attend a conference about the Colorado River, I leaped at the chance to hear experts discuss ways to handle the consequences of our warming planet.

Since I entered the symposium without a substantial background in southwestern geography, I had little idea of the Colorado River’s importance to the two countries, seven states and 22 Native American nations it supports. However, the diverse array of concerns that were discussed throughout the conference — water rights, environmental dilemmas, sectoral priorities and land use problems — quickly made it clear that the river is a vital component of our southwest community. The Colorado River Conversations Conference allowed me to learn about the tensions between our use of natural resources, various economic and political concerns, and the needs of our environment, all of which have existed long before the climate crisis.

The most surprising element of the conference was the number of different groups invested in river management. There were representatives from Native American tribes, states, and water utilities, members of local governments, NGOs, professors, and employees of for-profit companies, each with different concerns and specific goals for the governance of the river.

Beyond water management and the accompanying dangers of drought, there were also discussions on the need for representational diversity in policymaking, the health of ecosystems along the entire length of the river and at the river’s mouth, and the physical characteristics of the river’s banks.

The one thing all of these groups had in common, besides their evident interest in the Colorado River, was a recognition of the significant challenges posed by climate change. It was wonderful that, though separated by borders, priorities, resources and geography, these different organizations could come together and discuss this coming contemporary catastrophe. But even in a room filled with like-minded individuals, by the end of the symposium on Oct. 30, no one had offered a concrete plan on how to deal with the consequences of climate change or how to slow its progression.

Before learning about the complexity of Colorado River governance, I would have been frustrated at their lack of progress, blaming any shortcomings on generational differences and an ignorance of the climate crisis’s severity. But having witnessed the collective determination of the conference’s attendees to mitigate the effects of global warming, I couldn’t attribute the lack of breakthroughs to a lack of effort.

This conference made it apparent that global warming is not a singular problem but an exacerbator of the environmental problems that have existed for centuries. And even if climate change can be slowed significantly, or even stopped (which seems increasingly unlikely), it will not end all negative impacts that humans have on the environment.

In fact, I fear that if we do “solve” the climate problem, we’ll be satisfied. We’ll believe that we have created a way to coexist with our environment, but in reality we’ll be harming our planet in less visible or immediately alarming ways.

We need to be aware of the fact that, in the best-case scenario where we can halt and reverse climate change, there will still be a lot of work to do.

Madeleine Zaritsky is a high school senior at Basis Tucson North High School. In college, she plans to major in environment science and human health, focusing on ways the climate crisis will affect human bodies.