Letters/Opinions 2006-2007


This page features letters and editorials written by ST members and published in local media. ST encourages anyone to write on sustainability issues and submit them to newspapers and broadcast media for consideration and airing. Here are the most recent pieces written by ST members.


Proposition 200 – A call for a different future for Tucson

Madeline Kiser
mkiser (at) dakotacom.net

To their credit the authors of Proposition 200 have launched our community into a discussion, passionate and true, it has long needed to have. It’s heartening to open the paper and find, almost every day, commentaries questioning how we can continue to grow given that our supplies of water are limited. (No matter which technologies we turn to, nature has limits and they will continue to exist for us.) Some commentators argue that Proposition 200 has united diverse sectors which oppose it. In a spirit of generosity it’s important to credit its authors for serving as a catalyst for the debates we are having.

Though a catalyst, Proposition 200 leaves urgent questions unanswered: In this moment of climate change, rising costs and diminishing supplies of energy, and other factors how many people can our fragile desert environment sustain? Even as the Colorado’s flow seems to be changing in the face of climate change, will 140,000 acre-feet per year – the point when Tucson Water must stop supplying new connections –still count as the “maximum reliable water supply”?

When pointing out Proposition 200’s limitations however it’s important to realize that neither Arizona’s water laws and related science and policies, nor the “regionalist” vision being promoted as an alternative to the proposition – with its underlying reliance on high-tech solutions – satisfactorily answer the urgent questions we face.

If, as many sources suggest, the flow of the Colorado River will change as our climate changes, how much water will CAP provide? Studies are also being done to determine whether aquifers will be affected by climate change. Will it alter their supply? And as a recent lead New York Times Magazine article points out, our water future looks much bleaker when we factor in shifts in costs and supplies of energy.

How do these and other factors add up? An Internet-savvy public will insist that the hardest questions and most difficult scenarios define the public agenda. Proposition 200 came out of increasing public longing to more truthfully address the full consequences of what our choice to grow will be – as if nature were limitless and technology capable of facing any scenario.

It’s critical that we realize that a growing number of countries are taking a radically different approach to water scarcity. They are engaging in public debates which reveal the underlying values of water laws, science and policies. For many, these values link conserving water for nature, and water for humans (if we destroy rivers and aquifers, we destroy ourselves), and are reflected in water laws that give the right to water first to nature and to people. A corresponding science has taken shape which brings together specialists from many disciplines, and the public, to measure and disseminate the full range of consequences any proposed alteration to rivers and aquifers will mean.

At a moment when debate over water is becoming divisive in our city and state, it would be helpful for Arizonans to hold a highly publicized referendum, organized amongs diverse sectors, which openly questions whether our current water paradigm – values, water laws, policies, and science – assures us that nature and future generations will have the water they need. In this process, state water experts, community leaders, and hopefully outside experts with their different views, could enter into a truly participatory and scientifically rigorous questioning.

Madeline Kiser is a member of Sustainable Tucson. She can be reached at: mkiser (at) dakotacom.net

Arenas rarely generate positive cash flow

By Marlena Hanlon Guest Opinion, Tucson Citizen August 22,2007

Public process can be onerous, especially if there’s a fixed goal. But if everyone is asleep at the wheel, it becomes more obvious why it’s necessary.

The downtown arena is neither a progressive vision nor sound economic coattail riding.

Arenas are universal economic losers and, contrary to all hype, are more likely to salt the earth than harvest fruit.

In a national study of 14 public/private stadiums/arenas, which really means the public paid for a private team or company to reap the profits, only one showed a positive cash flow.

This one is privately operated and was built with private money.

Only 14 were studied because those were the only ones that made available complete capital and operating cost data. These albatrosses become so embarrassing that no one wants to tout the figures.

The average loss of these facilities is $832,640 per year per facility.

In 63 percent of 36 cases analyzed, stadiums negatively affected residential and business growth in the area.
The remaining 37 percent showed no evidence of contributing to growth.

Anyone who has lived in an urban area with stadiums has seen that the “neighborhoods” become blight-infested ghost pockets.

Crime rates in these areas are nine times higher than the national average.

Arenas/stadiums take prime real estate off the development market. While the facility is predicted to generate huge revenues via property taxes, tax concessions used to make the project viable or attractive to investors mitigate those revenues, sometimes entirely.

In contrast, private development more often does contribute to the tax base, if required to pay its own way.
Arenas also are touted for drawing out-of-town lodgers, resulting in revenue to the hospitality sector and via lodging taxes.

However, studies have shown that lodging taxes are not significant, again in part because of tax offsets.
In essence, stadiums and arenas have to import revenue to succeed. The question then becomes how much of a draw the facility will create.

In most situations, the arena serves residents or visitors who are already here. So no new net revenue is injected into the economy; existing money is just moved from one pot to another.

Therefore, the facility actually begins to compete with other, existing leisure business.

Take our nearest example. Phoenix has credited its ballpark and arena or the downtown boom.

The opposite was the case: Those two facilities became attractive to developers after downtown began to register a pulse again.

This was because of the residential renewal and community cohesion resulting from the I-10 fight a decade earlier.

Many thriving local businesses were forced out of downtown when the facilities were built, to make way for the corporate whitewash of TGI Fridays et al, which are event-oriented and do not cater to residents in the lull between pitches.

Phoenix has long cooked the books about the “revenue” generated by these facilities. They are both huge money losers.

Revenue captured by excise taxes – the “indirect spending” factor that sells so many arenas – is reinvested into the facilities to keep them afloat.

US Airways Center, for example, borrows money from the city of Phoenix to pay its rent to the city.
Phoenix captures the rent and the excise taxes as net gains. In reality, it’s the same dollar, moved from one pocket to another.

It’s just a big shell game.

In some cases, building a stadium is worthwhile, but for cultural reasons, not economic ones.

Cities such as Boston, New York or Cleveland, where sports are deeply ingrained in the community’s identity and cohesion, value retention of teams to a degree that warrants spending millions of dollars of public money.

But if any city is making the choice as a way to bolster revenue or create a community where it doesn’t exist, the idea is lose-lose.

These points don’t even begin to take into account the environmental ravages of such a facility, especially considering that it is used so infrequently.

No infrastructure is in place to support spikes in downtown attendance, and in the absence of viable public transportation, a big parking lot would have to be included, wiping out acres of desert vegetation and contributing to the toxic and thermal load that blacktops provide.

It’s simply amazing that with the infinite range of possibilities available to the blank slate that is, and remains, Rio Nuevo, this was the vision so exciting it was pushed through in a competitive spasm.

Marlena Hanlon is a process analyst and applied anthropologist, focusing on urban renewal and community development.

Farm bill 2007, Why it matters: Small farms are good for health, economy

By Lindianne Sarno, Guest Opinion, Arizona Daily Star, July 31, 2007

Why should Tucson’s citizenry care about local food production? Let’s start with the scary fact that virtually all of the food we eat travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to our tables in Tucson, according to the USDA. Tucson’s food supply is vulnerable to events beyond our control like faraway crop failures and fuel shortages.

Picture Tucson as a city of 10,000 family and community gardens, each garden producing vegetables, fruit, herbs, mesquite pods, and compost to enrich the soil.

Picture Southern Arizona full of small family farms adapted for arid lands agriculture.

Picture a Tucson that is food secure because much of our food is grown in Southern Arizona. Picture a Tucson where no one goes hungry and our kids have healthy school lunches.

Regional food production is the key to healthy people and a thriving economy.

In addition to producing healthy foods, family farmers and ranchers steward a good portion of America’s land and wildlife.

Trees, grasses and herbs pull carbon from the air and produce clean, cool oxygen. More family farms = more oxygen + less carbon in the atmosphere = less global warming!

Tucson has a long history of raising food. From pre-history until the 1950s, the Santa Cruz and San Pedro River valleys were the breadbasket of the desert Southwest. But in the past 50 years, small and midsize family farms have been systematically driven out of business to be replaced by huge corporate farms and overseas food production. Millions of farmers have been forced off their land.

Your help is needed to restore Southern Arizona as a food-producing region. Similar movements to support independent farms and ranches are afoot in towns and cities across the U.S. Right now the Farm Bill of 2007 is in Congress.
As currently written, the Farm Bill reduces support to family farms while increasing subsidies to corporate giants whose chemical/pesticide farms are destroying Earth’s topsoil, atmosphere, and oceans.

To push to modify the Farm Bill of 2007 to support local food production, go to www.communityfoodbank.com online or call the Community Food Security Center, 622-0525, which will help you get informed on the issues. Then call Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, asking that they support provisions such as those in the bipartisan Fairness Amendment to the Farm Bill offered by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), provisions to reduce trade-distorting subsidies and shift funds to programs that feed hungry families, protect the environment and help small farmers.

Other ways you can support local food producers: Visit Tucson’s farmers markets and meet your local farmers; buy fresh local foods in season; bring used egg cartons and paper/plastic bags for farmers to reuse; join a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, group. CSA members invest upfront so farmers can purchase seeds, equipment and soil amendments; in return members receive a weekly share of produce.

Supporting small producers is a bipartisan issue, and can bring together true conservatives in both parties who care about conserving America’s soil, making America food-secure, and supporting America’s small farmers and ranchers, the backbone of our country.

Contact Lindianne Sarno at sarno.lindianne@gmail.com

Rejecting growth is a viable option

By Dave Ewoldt, Guest Opinion Arizona Daily Star, June 13, 2007

There are a number of excellent ideas within the report and recommendations of the recent Tucson Regional Town Hall, which, if implemented, will contribute to make Tucson a more livable city and improve the overall quality of life for all its citizens. However, there is a gaping hole in the analysis that is going to make realizing the possibilities difficult if not impossible.

At the June 6 special meeting at the Fox Theatre, a summary of four of the 13 areas discussed at the Town Hall was presented. Audience members were invited to make comments or ask questions after each section. My No. 1 recommendation is that it is time to start being honest with ourselves about what’s going on, and the circumstances we find ourselves in.

How can the citizens of Tucson be reasonably expected to develop a regional vision that doesn’t account for some major factors that will be directly impacting their lives and livelihoods? It appears from the report and recommendations that the entire Tucson Regional Town Hall took place in either ignorance or deliberate denial of global warming and the declining availability and increasing cost of the fossil fuels necessary to maintain economic growth – which is a necessary factor not only in population growth but mobility.

This was especially obvious in the section on water. The water issue was said to be complex, but is actually quite simple; it only appears complex because it is intentionally presented in that manner to facilitate obfuscation.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is only so much water available. Globally, fresh water supplies are declining due to misuse, abuse and overuse. Tucson is far from unique in this regard. The water table in the Tucson area has dropped from 20 feet to over 300 feet in the past 70 years and continues to drop three to four feet per year. The Central Arizona Project provides roughly one-third of the water used annually in this region.

There is a truism in sustainability that an area cannot become sustainable by making another area less sustainable. The Colorado River that CAP depends on no longer reaches the sea; it is oversubscribed and its flow has been steadily decreasing every year. Mexico is no longer receiving its treaty allotment. Due to global warming, this trend will most likely both continue and worsen.

One of the recommendations in regard to water was to “form a regional collaborative to secure additional water supplies.” This is an open admission that we are beyond our sustainable limits – we are already overgrown. Yet we continue to allow more growth to be approved. Indeed, we actively seek more growth.

The overall concern of the Tucson Regional Town Hall was how to protect and accommodate growth, instead of how to manage our regional resources sustainably in order to improve quality of life and ensure a livable area for our descendants.

Why does it continue to appear as if the main things growing are greed and stupidity, and we consider this to be progress? These may be some inconvenient truths, but truths do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

The rejection of growth is not just a viable policy option, it is a survival strategy. The question is not how much it will cost to create an ecological economy, but what is the price we will have to pay as a society for not doing so?

Our current path is doing little more than ensuring a greater level of hardship for a larger number of people in the coming years.

Dave Ewoldt is also an executive director a Natural Systems Solutions, a nonprofit group that advocates natural, holistic solutions to challenges. Write to him at dave@reststop.net.

Peak oil scenario paints frightening future for all

By Guy R. McPherson Guest Opinion, Arizona Daily Star, March 28, 2007

By day, Chris conducts research in conservation biology and prepares for the intellectually demanding exams required of doctoral students. At home in the evening with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, he teaches himself to create fire by rubbing sticks together.

Chris is one of the graduate students with whom I am fortunate to work, and he has wisely chosen to live in two worlds. The first is the overindulged culture of make-believe in which most Americans are comfortably ensconced; the second is the real world of peak oil.

World oil production reached a peak in 2005 at 85 million barrels per day. We’ve been easing down the bell-shaped oil-supply curve, losing production slowly and gradually. Next year we will fall off the oil-supply cliff, with an average daily production of less than 78 million barrels.

The response of the Bush administration has been to go to war to get oil. Thus far, we’ve exchanged considerable blood and $500 billion for a couple million barrels of oil each day. By controlling the Iraqi government, we’ve also assured a place at the OPEC table. Mission accomplished for the oilman in the Oval Office means sustaining the American Dream one barrel at a time.

By 2015, when world demand is projected to exceed 120 million barrels per day, world supply will drop below 65 million barrels. The double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment of the 1970s, a predictable result of the continental United States passing the oil peak, will seem like the good old days. For that matter, so will the Great Depression.

Seems the American Dream, rooted in the suburbs and propped up by cheap gasoline, could transform itself into the American Nightmare. The Star’s new Interstate 10 widening blog, called Gridlocked, will be revealed as the chimera it is.

Oil priced at $100 per barrel represents serious sand in the economic gears of empire. Imagine what happens when demand outstrips supply by a factor of two or more, and oil is priced at $400 per barrel. Because this country mainlines oil, it is easy to envision the complete collapse of the U.S. economy within a decade.

Because all energy sources are derived from oil, the implications for the Old Pueblo are particularly grim: delivery of water, food and air conditioning depend on ready supplies of cheap oil.

Peak oil is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. If World War II rates a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10, global warming is a 3 and peak oil is a 12. Most experts who write about peak oil predict complete economic collapse within a decade, followed shortly thereafter by anarchy.

Although we could employ a variety of conservation measures to mitigate the impacts of ever-decreasing supplies of oil, no politician would propose such a career-ending strategy. After all, conservation went out of style in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan ripped the solar panels off the White House and trumpeted economic growth as our only god.

According to Reagan’s campaign slogan, it was “morning in America,” so I suppose he thought future generations wouldn’t need electricity.

Now what? It’s time to start making other arrangements, the kind that do not include cars, airplanes and the delivery of cheap plastic crap to a Wal-Mart near you. It’s time, in other words, to start living in the real world.

Take a page from Chris: Start learning skills for a post-carbon world. If you can find a way to do something practical and useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are likely to be well-fed and even revered in your local community.

If that community is Tucson, I recommend you learn how to harvest water, grow edible crops and get along with your ill-prepared neighbors when it’s 100 degrees and the calendar says summer is still around the corner.

Write to Guy R. McPherson at grm@ag.arizona.edu.

More solar panel use needed

By Bruce Plenk

Letter to the Editor, Arizona Daily Star, March 7, 2006

I was glad to see that the Star mentioned the possible use of solar panels as part of creating shade for shoppers in a recent editorial (“Phoenix stores offering respite from desert sun,” March 2).

The Pennington Street Garage, which is solar-powered, is a good example of the city of Tucson using solar panels. We don’t need forward thinking on this, we need some political will, better information and perhaps some local incentives.

Tucson has plenty of sun, the mayor has signed onto a proclamation to reduce global warming, the technology is readily available, tax credits are better than ever for businesses, and recent Arizona Corporation Commission decisions are pushing Tucson Electric Power Co. to purchase more renewable power. The result is a “perfect storm” for more solar in our town.

Let’s not let another opportunity slip away.

Bruce Plenk is a public interest attorney in Tucson

Expect the beginning of the end of Tucson as we know it to arrive next year

By Guy McPherson Guest Commentary, Tucson Weekly, March 1-7, 2007

For a writer, there are few experiences more thrilling than words that generate action. I was therefore elated when the group Sustainable Tucson grew from my column about the impending Tucson apocalypse (Guest Commentary, April 27, 2006).

Lest you think low gas prices are cause for apathy, I’m calling for more action.

Considerable evidence indicates we passed the world oil peak near the end of 2005. Oil supply follows a bell-shaped curve, so we have been easing down for slightly more than a year.

Now that we’ve burned the inexpensive half of our planetary endowment of oil, we need to prepare ourselves to fall off the oil-supply cliff. This will occur in 2008. The economic, societal and political implications are profound, and discussion of them is curiously lacking from the mainstream media.

A series of recessions triggered by the high price of gasoline will be followed, within a decade, by a depression that will make the Great Depression seem like the good old days.

We will not recover from this depression before runaway greenhouse effects doom our species to extinction. At the very least, we can expect oil prices to exceed $400 per barrel within a decade. At those oil prices, you can kiss goodbye the days of happy motoring, the use of fossil fuels to deliver water and air conditioning to Tucson, and the U.S. dollar.

In light of this knowledge, and the cheerful demeanor with which I pass it along, people often ask my advice as they plan for life without fossil fuels. (All energy sources are derivatives of oil, so expensive oil signals the end of our ability to extract and deliver coal, natural gas and uranium, and seriously impedes our ability to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels.)

In an attempt to further the much-needed discussion about the looming post-carbon era, I offer the following Tucson-centric perspective.

This country’s ever-expanding economy since World War II, coupled with a profound sense of denial, suggests that relatively few people are prepared for the post-carbon era. As a result, you can expect increasing civil unrest in the decade ahead. The rule of law is likely to give way to anarchy. Local heroes are desperately needed.

Do not expect corporations or elected officials to bail us out. Rather, the collapse of the economy will render them meaningless. The federal government, and then the state government, will join Wal-Mart in simply fading away from your life. We will need plenty of local heroes to step into the breach. If you are honest, compassionate and interested in serving others, this city needs you.

In the very near future, you can expect to see a much smaller population than currently resides in Tucson. If you are committed to remaining in Tucson–and if you don’t own a horse, you won’t have much choice in five years or so–your task is a daunting one. You will have to secure your water supply by harvesting water. You will need enough water to grow your own food, too: $400 oil spells the end of Safeway and Trader Joe’s, and disruptions in the delivery of food, water and electricity to the Old Pueblo will begin next year. Bombing Iran will exacerbate these problems, but I’d rather not think about that.

As an enlightened citizen, you’ll be forced to live in two worlds. You’ll work and play in your “normal” life, saving money for a rainy day and supporting those you love. But in the back of your mind, you’ll know about the new world ahead, and you’ll be planning to be part of a smaller community that lives close to the earth. You’ll be learning how to harvest rainwater, grow your own food and live with far fewer resources.

As you plan for your own personal post-carbon future, please advocate for the city’s nascent efforts in sustainability. Implore city leaders to prepare for the days, less than a decade from now, when we have no fuel for private automobiles, no food-delivery system for the 3,000-mile Caesar salad on which we have come to depend and no water pumped across the desert to feed our insatiable desires.

While you’re learning new skills and advocating for action from local government officials, consider joining the pioneering actions of Sustainable Tucson. Read all about them at sustainabletucson.org.

Guy McPherson is a professor of natural resources at the University of Arizona.


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