There’s no such thing as climate change doubt here in Mexico, not the way we have it in the States. Part of that’s because the subject’s never been politicized and the Mexican curriculum is federal. Same goes for evolution, probably not coincidentally—no room for fourth grade teachers to start editorializing during science class (course, they’re Catholics here, not literalists, so there’s no religious problem either). But the other reason, I think, is that it’s become impossible to ignore the evidence.
In the US, in Europe, we enjoy largely stable climates, and the effects of the change are, to us, far off. The whole southwest of the United States is experiencing a prolonged drought, but it’s a drought-y kind of region and more importantly is dominated by climate change denial. Heat stress has weakened our national forests to the point that bark beetles are soon going to replace trees entirely, but unlike in Mexico, people don’t live in our parks, and the problem’s low-profile despite its unprecedented disastrousness. Big storms get play, Sandy and Katrina among them, but they come infrequently enough and are distributed enough that they don’t, to us, constitute a trend.
Here where I live, though, the climate is fucked up. Last year was the first in living memory with no dry season. This year is the second. We have three seasons, more or less. What you might call the winter lasts from November to mid-February, although the cold’s a function of cloud cover more than anything—a sunny day in December’s going to hit the high eighties at least. The hot, dry season lasts from mid-February til the start of June. Not a drop of rain and temperatures in May that crest 45C. They tell us we’re getting to 40 next week. June to November is the wet season. Hot but not hot as hell and torrential in the afternoons.
It’s the start of April now and it’s been raining almost every day since Christmas. For the time being, it’s a good thing, and for the time being, this part of the mountains might be one of the only places on Earth reaping the benefits of climate change. The dry-wet cycle here does what it does everywhere, weakens plant life in the hot and then blasts it out of the soil with the deluge; dry soil absorbs less water and we get washed out roads, landslides, flooding. With the unseasonable rain, the hills have stayed green and the slopes hold up better when the real downpours arrive. The dry season is a time of water scarcity, but it’s less difficult to get through now; our reservoir is fuller than it ought to be and the Mexican government has spent more than a decade encouraging rain capture, so even the dry side of the Reserve has more to drink than in years past.
That’s all to the good. But there have been other changes. Mango season ends with the rains—the fruits absorb too much water, the skins split, and they fill up with maggots.
The slits don’t have to be visible; a señora gave me and my counterpart four beautiful mangos last May, a month before the end of the season, and each was crawling. Likewise, green or no, permanent heat-stress has weakened even our scrubby subtropical pines and forests all over Mexico have joined our bark beetle epidemic, calamitous in a place that has fewer resources to combat the infection and to fight the wildfires it encourages. Dead trees are dry trees are kindling, and this reserve alone sees thousands of burns every year.
Life cycles are off-kilter. Last March was bone-dry, and a total lack of moisture keeps the region’s insects in check as well as the cold. This year’s March was wet through, and I’ve been sweeping mountains of husks out of my house every day. We’re months from cicada season and I saw my first one crushed into the dust of the road on my way to work today. This weekend, I woke up, went to make breakfast, and when I reached for my frying pan in the sink, there was a six-inch scorpion trying to scrabble his way out. The dry season is the time for those devil arthropods, but not, usually, on the third floor of a bare tile house and up a climb that I was not even aware they could make.
The serranos pay close attention to their weather, and they’ve got long memories for it, so we’re all waiting to see how this year plays out. Last May was mild, and as long as anyone can think back, a mild May one year means a brutal May the next. Now that things are out of whack, there’s no telling, and while it’s already godawful hot, it’s no hotter than it was this time last year. The rains have made it muggier though—the vegetation is built to keep water in and they lose it slowly to transpiration—so one good dousing keeps us humid for weeks. The mosquitoes are out in force months early, and in a region affected by dengue, nobody’s happy about it.
So far the change has treated us well, but more than one grizzled old vieja living in this sierra will tell you she’s been living with the devils she knows for long enough to be afraid of the ones she doesn’t. We’ll have to wait and see.