Continuing on its frenzied rampage to erode democracy, undermine human rights, and make the U.S. even more of a laughing stock than it already was, the Supreme Court dealt a lethal blow to climate action in its West Virginia v. EPA ruling on Thursday, largely paralyzing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate planet-warming power plant emissions and setting the stage for future rulings that will expedite the climate crisis and doom us all.

Slate has a concise rundown on the ruling—and its broader ramifications in depriving federal agencies of the ability to enforce policy—here, but for the Sunday Reading this week, I thought I’d feature a story, out this week from New Yorker contributor Rachel Monroe, that casts the Court’s nihilism into sharp focus by illustrating the social and environmental impacts of the megadrought that has plagued the Southwestern U.S. for more than two decades. 

Monroe’s piece spotlights Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated community outside of Scottsdale, Arizona that is slated to run out of most of its water supply by the beginning of next year. “Some homeowners’ wells are drying up, while others who get water delivered have recently been told that their source will be cut off on January 1st,” Monroe writes.

While Monroe lays out the “slow-motion train wreck” of environmental crises driving the shortage, the story is primarily about the social discord that the climate disruption has caused within the community. With no municipal leadership to implement a solution, residents, forced to find a fix themselves, have quickly become hostile and polarized—especially over the idea of forming a Domestic Water Improvement District, or DWID, which would allow them to purchase water from an aquifer outside the region.

From the story:

Rumors spread on Facebook, claiming that the DWID was a power grab. People who had once acted as if worries about water scarcity were overblown began imagining their own elaborate worst-case scenarios: What if the DWID imposed taxes, or used the power of eminent domain to seize non-members’ wells, or put liens on people’s houses? What was next, an H.O.A.? ….

The DWID inspired petitions and counter-petitions. Long-standing friendships fractured. Karen Nabity got called, well, a Karen. On Facebook, people made catty comments about one another’s pools and fountains and lawn sprinklers and lush landscaping. They accused one another of lowering the water table and drying up neighboring wells. “I am so sorry for your well trouble but it has nothing to do with us,” one neighbor replied to an accusation. “The pool is to swim the horses.”

Instead of demanding assistance or climate action from the county, state, or federal government, Rio Verde residents have turned against each other and seemingly lost sight of the core issue. Monroe paints a dystopian image of a community where developers are building dozens of new houses—and selling them to buyers who “believe that the county is not going to let five hundred homes next to one of the wealthiest cities go without water”—while the reality is that “it’s going to turn into the Hunger Games,” as one resident says in the story—“like, a scrambling-for-your-toilet-water-every-month kind of thing.”

The story, published just a day before the West Virginia v. EPA ruling, left me thinking about another Hunger Games reference: when you’re in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.

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