Local Voices 2006-2008


Local Voices presents words of sustainable wisdom expressed by past and present members of the Tucson community.

Want to truly fix the economy? Then let’s destroy it completely and start over

By Randy Serraglio, published November 6, 2008  by The Tucson Weekly

On Halloween, The Associated Press continued a funereal drumbeat for the American economy with this headline: “Beaten down, American consumers burrow deeper.”

It seems that consumer confidence has crashed, and the spooked populace is holding its cash tight. Amidst scary numbers and dire forecasts, the article managed to employ the word “grim” twice–as in, “retailers are bracing for a grim holiday-buying season”–and warned that there are no “silver bullets” to slay the approaching werewolf of recession.

Well, I’ve got an idea: Let’s make this holiday-buying season as grim, slim and trim as possible. How about we just stop buying shit altogether? I mean it. Don’t buy anything. No plastic crap from Wal-Mart, no superfluous clothes from department stores, no useless trinkets from the mega-mall. Not one goddamn thing that you don’t really need. Just stop.

You want the CEOs to share the pain? Pull the dollar rug out from under them. Our economy–check that, their economy–depends on excess. It is bloated, inefficient, wasteful and incredibly damaging to workers, the environment, global social well-being and just about everything else that really matters. The more workers produce, the less they get paid, and the more their wealth gets redistributed upward to fat cats who are at this very moment floating away under golden parachutes, dreaming of their next scheme to get even richer.

In order to save this toxic economy, it will be necessary to destroy it. Our mantra now should be: “Shrink, baby, shrink!”

I know what you’re thinking: Won’t this hurt everybody? Won’t people lose their jobs? Well, sure they will–but they already are! Beyond that, a lot of people’s jobs are literally killing them, and many more do not pay a living wage in any event. This situation will not change until we rip up the current economic design that is based on squeezing every last penny out of every human and natural resource, and rescale the economy in a way that favors stability, frugality and local self-reliance over rapacious excess.

Our government has graciously opened the treasury to the “suffering” giants of Wall Street to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars–our dollars–much of which will be handed out as year-end bonuses to the very greedheads who created this mess. Well, here’s a way to put the squeeze back on the D.C. whores and the Wall Street pigs: We can get our cut by creating a crisis that forces the government to shift untold billions away from stupid wars and corporate welfare, and back into our starving and crumbling communities.

You’ll have to buy some things, of course, so let’s prioritize. Buy nothing from national chains. Make what purchases you must from the smallest and most local businesses possible. Buy used items instead of new. A necessary fundamental evolution toward a more sane economy is to make the most of what we have rather than making so much more than we need. And don’t worry about other countries passing us by. When Wal-Mart goes down, China will go with it.

Speaking of targets: The largest profits in history continue to flow out of our pockets every single day to the filthiest, most violent industry of all, fueling the slaughter of millions and an exponentially worsening greenhouse-gas crisis that threatens every species on Earth. You want to make oil companies and terrorist-sponsoring nations pay for decades of price-gouging and murder? Stop buying gas!

Perhaps the greatest benefit to this scheme would be its impact on climate change, which will render economic choices moot if it is not addressed in the very near future. The only significant reduction of greenhouse gases that has ever been achieved resulted directly from the economic collapse that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia’s emissions fell by half and remain lower than 1990 levels. Considering the utter failure of society to effectively address this problem, dramatic economic contraction may be our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Manufacturing a crisis such as the one I’m describing may seem irresponsible. But ask yourself: Is it any less responsible than allowing the captains of industry to skate away and repeat their cycle of thievery and destruction indefinitely? Or worse, continuing to over-produce and over-consume until our planet simply cannot support us any longer?

Write to Randy Serraglio at rserraglio@biologicaldiversity.org
Economy casts shadow on Rosemont plans
By Randy Serraglio, published Dec 3, 2008 Arizona Daily Star
In assessing the prospects for copper-mining proposals in Southern Arizona, beware of taking company promises at face value. In order to analyze the economic context of the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains more critically, we offer these points for consideration.
The stock price of Augusta Resource Corp., the parent company of Rosemont Copper, has plummeted more than 80 percent in three months. Of course, this parallels the general fall of the market over that time, but it more than doubles the average decline.
Augusta claims to be “well financed,” but in fact “heavily leveraged” would be more accurate. The biggest contracts the company has signed are conditioned upon receiving a permit from the Coronado National Forest and beginning production. Most of the actual cash it has raised to date was gained through dumping tens of millions of new shares on the stock market.
The price of copper has also plummeted to about a third of what it was just six months ago, which is about half the price that Rosemont’s mining plan projects in the first year of production. Can this really be a profitable proposal?
The current crash of copper prices is the latest manifestation of a historical cycle that has temporarily boosted and then devastated communities in the West for over a century. It is guaranteed to occur again in the not-so-distant future, even if copper prices rebound.
This boom-and-bust cycle is the antithesis of sustainable economic development. One need only examine what is occurring in Safford, Clifton, Morenci and other mining towns to see its devastating effects. Mining giant Freeport McMoRan is laying off hundreds of workers while scaling back and shutting down operations, yet Augusta wants to start a new mine.
The numbers are even worse than Freeport has admitted. Ever since Phelps Dodge broke the union in 1983, many mining jobs have been outsourced to contractors, hundreds of whom have also lost jobs in the current crash.
The result is mass unemployment and economic chaos in Safford, where the largest developer recently declared bankruptcy and once-full hotel rooms sit empty. The town was promised 30 years of economic prosperity from a new mine, but got only about a year or two of boom before the inevitable bust.
Augusta has stated in Securities and Exchange Commission filings that it has been unable to secure bonding for the proposed Rosemont project. The company has even suggested that it may have to self-insure against the sort of disasters that occurred a few weeks ago in Morenci, where thousands of gallons of sulfuric acid solution spilled into local waterways.
There may be many reasons for such lack of faith in Augusta on the part of insurers, including a mining plan that relies on unproven technologies from a company that has never operated a producing mine.
Whatever the reasons, if professional risk-takers refuse to gamble on Augusta’s ability to run a safe, clean and profitable mine, why should the people of Southern Arizona?
Write to Randy Serraglio at rserraglio@biologicaldiversity.org

‘New eyes’ focused on light-rail corridor

By Linda Rothchild

Guest Opinion:Arizona Daily Star, August 15, 2007

Earlier this summer more than 100 Tucsonans joined the seven members of the American Institute of Architects Sustainable Design Assessment Team for a three-day conference to discuss Tucson’s future.

Together with planners, zoners, architects and neighborhood activists, the team took a long, hard look at Tucson. Their observations were on the mark. It took several pairs of “new eyes” to see what’s right in our own backyard. Among all the team’s recommendations, one that stood out was using Broadway as a light-rail corridor.

It’s hard to visualize another way when you’re riding the merry-go-round that is Tucson’s streets. However, they looked at our hot, asphalt jungle and hit the nail right on the head with a recommendation to run a cool, friendly, light rail down our “main street.”

As planners, they consider many things: reducing the heat-island effect, energy usage, wear and tear on our roads and quality of life. Broadway was their natural choice.

With the threat of global warming, water shortages, and fuel and energy crises, their suggestion just makes a lot of sense. Light rail enables Tucson to draw into its core and create a heart, a soul, a main street.

Visualize light rail: pollution-free, cool, efficient, quiet, relaxful, well-lit and passenger-friendly. Equip it with music. Make it “cool.” Have a latte stand, some newspapers. The experts want us to visualize it.

“Streetscapes” they call it. OK, visualize potted trees, water fountains, benches, bike stands. Start it from Rio Nuevo Downtown then on through the University District, head east past several malls, down the center of Broadway, out to the bedroom communities.

Currently, 62 cities in the United States and eight cities in Canada either have light rail already or have approved plans for it in the near future. Based on the success of light rail in Denver, Portland and Seattle alone, it would be a boon to singles, students and families.

We are not giving up our cars or even car lanes. We are giving ourselves a break from the madness of the roads. One could choose to take the rail one, two or three days a week, enjoying the rare luxury of less stress.
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup has signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The Cool Cities Committee of the Sierra Club views this as the first step in a city becoming a “cool city.”

By taking hundreds of cars off the road weekly and tons of carbon emissions out of our air, Tucson would be one step closer to fulfilling its promise.

Eventually, the city could look at connectivity with other transit and extensions to outlying communities. It’s a win-win any way you look at it. Visualize it and it may come. Work for its soul, vote for it, and it will come.

Write to Linda Rothchild at linda.rothchild@gmail.com.

Linda Rothchild is vice chair of the Rincon Group of the Sierra Club in Tucson and a founding member of the Tucson Cool Cities Committee.

The first Sustainable Tucson Forum held in June 2007 generates open dialog and positive responses.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that Ruth Beeker, former president of Miramonte Neighborhood Association in Midtown said, “There was so much positive energy generated by this event for this community. Now my concern is, ‘How do you build on it, how do you maintain it, so something actually happens?’”

Corn ethanol won’t solve our energy needs

By J. Paul Jennings

Guest Opinion Arizona Daily Star, March 12, 2007

In the national debate on ethanol, at least three fallacies seem to have become accepted as gospel. What is disturbing is that, at a time when America can’t afford to shortchange energy security, untruths about the benefits of biofuels could become an excuse for doing nothing to change government policies that hamper oil production. I offer the following three myths and the realities.

Myth No. 1: Ethanol is the answer to our nation’s energy problems.

Nothing illustrates the limits of ethanol more than the fact that last year 14 percent of the U.S. corn crop was used to make ethanol. It replaced less than 2 percent of gasoline. If all corn production in the United States was converted to ethanol production, it would replace only 12 percent of the gasoline Americans use.

Myth No. 2: Ethanol can save us from global warming. With today’s technology, overall greenhouse-gas emissions for a car driving on E85 (85 percent ethanol blended with 15 percent gasoline) are 20 percent lower than one using gasoline only, according to the Argonne National Laboratory.

But only a tiny fraction of the nation’s cars are capable of running on E85. Even with more flexible-fuel vehicles on the road, it will take decades for them to penetrate the market. In the near term, ethanol has no chance of mitigating global warming.

Myth No. 3: There’s no limit to how much ethanol can be produced.

Right now ethanol is a fast-growing business, with 117 production plants operating at full capacity, plus 78 more under construction and about 200 in the planning stages, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

The federal government subsidizes ethanol with a tax credit of 51 cents per gallon of ethanol. Those subsidies totaled about $1.4 billion last year.

Ethanol production, however, requires a large amount of energy and water. On average, each gallon of ethanol requires 1,700 gallons of water, mostly to grow the corn.

But a prolonged drought in large parts of the Midwest and Southwest has taken its toll on groundwater. In some parts of the Corn Belt, water tables have dropped almost 15 feet in the past decade. If they drop much more, ethanol producers might have to pipe in water from other regions, cut back or shut down.

Corn ethanol is being over-promoted as the answer to our nation’s energy needs, and is spiraling out of control, drawing corn away from the production of beef, poultry, pork, milk and eggs.

If left unchecked, ethanol production has the potential to ravage America’s livestock industry and harm the nation’s reliability as an exporter of corn and its byproducts.

Certainly there are better ways to ensure our energy security without using food for fuel. It’s important that we open up more of the U.S. outer continental shelf to oil and gas production.

J. Paul Jennings is a petroleum geologist and geophysicist with 57 years of exploration experience
Write to J. Paul Jennings at jpj1237@cox.net.

Studies indicate warming is human-caused; C02 to blame

Opinion by Robert G. Strom

Published March 11, 2007 Arizona Daily Star

The scientific evidence presented in the recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change strongly indicates that global warming is unequivocal, and that humans are the primary cause (a greater than 90 percent probability) by burning fossil fuels, producing cement and using the land.

CO2 is at a 650,000-year high

The data accumulated from around the world show the effects that include rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and increased frequency and duration of severe weather events. Droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires and severe storms are intensifying as predicted. The evidence for accelerated harm and rate of occurrence of these events has increased tremendously over the past six years.

Today the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is higher than at any time in at least the last 650,000 years. The current rate of CO2 increase is unprecedented at least during the last 20,000 years, and the global average temperature is rising faster than anytime during the past 10,000 years. The beginning was the Industrial Revolution, which started in 1751 when the first factory opened in England, and the rapid growth of the human population indicating a human cause of global warming. (The accumulation of CO2 did not show in ice core records until about 1850.)

Recent studies indicate that the current rise in temperature is primarily human-caused, not a natural phenomenon. For example, new studies of ocean warming show, at a confidence level greater than 95 percent, that present global warming is due to human-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Computer simulations using human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and natural climate forcings show that only human-caused greenhouse gases can be the primary cause of global warming. Also, there is a strong correlation between the rapid rise in the human population and the rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases, the rise in human-caused emission of greenhouse gases, and the rise in global average temperature, again indicating a human cause of global warming.

Medieval warming different

The often cited Medieval Warm Period, from about 850 until 1250 A.D., as an analog for today’s warming is incorrect. It was not global, but regional and confined to Europe, Greenland and Eastern North America. It was probably caused by particularly strong westerly wind circulation that brought warmer air to these regions. There is no evidence for this period in Asia, the western part of North America, or the Southern Hemisphere.

We must keep the atmospheric concentration of CO2 well below a level of about 440 parts per million (ppm). Otherwise, the global average temperature will eventually reach critical values with serious consequences for humans and other species. These include a drop in food production, serious water shortages in some regions including our own, a major drop in the Gross Domestic Product, large animal extinctions and millions of human deaths.

Today the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 381 ppm and rising at an average rate of 2 ppm per year. Therefore, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions about 60 percent in about 20 years in order to avoid reaching critical temperatures. The Kyoto Protocol will not come close to achieving this goal. Because of the inertia of the climate system, the global average temperature will rise about 1 to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above today’s level even if we completely stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today.

We can no longer delay action to address climate change. The longer we wait the harder and more expensive the task will be, and the greater the environmental and societal consequences.

It is also essential that we develop strategies to adapt to the ongoing changes we have already set in motion. Now is the time to marshal the political will for serious action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not rise to the challenge, then our children and grandchildren will pay a heavy price.

Robert G. Strom is professor emeritus, department of planetary sciences, University of Arizona

Contact Robert G. Strom at rstrom@lpl.arizona.edu

We can all do our part to cut CO2 emissions

By Travis E. Huxman, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona

Guest Opinion, Arizona Daily Star, February 5, 2007

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its executive summary describing the consequences of continued greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), on our planet. It is important to note that warming the Earth is just one of the many consequences of increased man-made CO2 in the atmosphere.

Less appreciated, but equally important, is the fact that rising CO2 also influences the growth of plants and animals on the land and in the oceans in ways that will alter the productivity of the Earth on which our lives depend.

The science on these changes is clear: If the increase in CO2 is not abated, our ocean fisheries will be at risk, the quality of agricultural food products will be reduced, and our Western landscapes, which support tourism and the continued economic development of our state, will be fundamentally changed.

The expected changes are sufficiently dramatic that both personal and government action is warranted.

Adding CO2 to the atmosphere is making the oceans more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry is placing our world’s fisheries at risk. The increased acidity reduces the growth of plankton, the microscopic organisms that are the foundation of ocean food webs.

Less plankton means less energy for organisms higher in the food chain. The net result? Fewer fish — which means less food for the people who depend on oceans for their livelihood.

Adding CO2 to the atmosphere also has a negative effect on the agricultural plants that feed the world. Rice, a food crop that sustains about one-half of the people on Earth, will become less nutritious. Rice has 15 percent less protein when grown at the CO2 concentrations that are predicted to occur by midcentury. Similar changes occur in other crops, including wheat.

For a large fraction of the Earth’s population, this reduction in the protein content will increase malnutrition and exacerbate the effects of famine. The decrease in the nutritional value of food crops will occur regardless of how CO2 affects global temperature.

Rising atmospheric CO2 also threatens the beloved landscapes of our American West. What will the landscapes we call home look like in the future? Rising CO2 will change them also, by promoting the growth of nonnative plants and increasing wildfires in areas that are not fire-adapted. Such fires are already removing iconic desert plants from the landscape.

Saguaro and Joshua Tree national parks will end up without the signature species these parks were designed to protect. These changes place our tourism industry at risk. Arizona will lose its saguaro, the Mojave Desert will lose its Joshua tree, and the great basin desert’s vast stretches of sagebrush will be no more.

We should not wait for government to act. This is a case where individual action can make a difference. There are many solutions that result from small changes in personal energy consumption, from turning off lights when you leave a room to washing your hands in cold water, to supporting alternative energy sources, especially those related to transportation.

Do not be distracted by special-interest groups arguing over the degree of human-caused warming. Keep in mind these direct effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on our natural world, and use them to motivate you to start to make a difference.

Write to Travis E. Huxman at huxman@email.arizona.edu

Rising gas prices, sporadic shortages are signs of the impending Tucson apocalypse

By Guy McPherson, professor of natural resources at the University of Arizona

Guest Commentary, Tucson Weekly , April 27, 2006

Stuck in traffic on a bridge over the Rillito River, I noticed dust trailing from three horses in the riverbed. My first thought: Where’s the fourth? I was swept along in traffic before I could determine which of the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was missing. Was it War, Death, Famine or Pestilence?

Considerable evidence suggests Tucson has no more than five years to become a livable city. In that time, we will have to secure our water supply, create a robust system of public transportation based on renewable energy and create a system for growing and distributing our food. Failing to meet these monumental challenges will result in a city that is not worth occupying, and people will flee Tucson faster than the emigration of snowbirds during a superheated month of March.

The reason? We’ve passed Peak Oil. According to Kenneth Deffeyes, a petroleum geologist recently retired from Princeton University, we had used half the world’s oil on Dec. 16, 2005. From this point forward, demand will increasingly outstrip supply. And the world’s oil will be gone in 30 years, 40 if we are very conservative. Americans use a quarter of the world’s oil, and we are not even remotely conservative.

Indeed, to a greater extent than any society in history, this country runs on oil.

Declining oil supplies threaten every element of American society. Forget the vulnerability of Wal-Mart’s warehouse-on-wheels approach to their delivery of cheap plastic crap. Of far great significance is the three-day inventory of food carried by the big-box grocery stores throughout Tucson.

Famine looms large right here in the wealthiest country in the history of humanity.

Jimmy Carter warned us about this, and tried to solve the problem with the 55 mph national speed limit and modest investments in renewable energy.

But the last liberal in the Oval Office–and paradoxically the last conservative–was cast aside by the neoconservative agenda that began with Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Although Francis Fukuyama, the architect of neoconservatism, recently pointed out that neoconservatism should be abandoned on the junk heap of history, we’re hurtling forward, pedal to the metal, apparently fully committed to collapsing under the weight of our own hubris. Think Easter Island, not the British Empire.

The result, in five years or less, will be the Greatest Depression. Thus, we have perhaps half a decade to build a habitable city. Substitutes for oil are not forthcoming: No renewable technologies are scalable within two decades, much less five years.

Two decades hence, the federal government will join everything else that is large and simply fade into irrelevance. The death of Wal-Mart is at hand, but that’s a thin silver lining in a large bank of threatening clouds. Within another two decades, we will be riding horses except where renewable energy is used to power mass transit. All food will be locally grown, and the interstate highway system will collapse, just like the U.S. economy before it.

A few days after I saw the three horsemen kicking up dust in the sands of the Rillito River, I realized the identity of the fourth harbinger of the apocalypse: Famine was proudly catching a ride in the foothills in the oil man’s Hummer. The irony is not lost on me; I was driving my own car when I saw his three buddies.

Our most neglected problem—global warming
by Stewart L. Udall

Stewart L. Udall was elected four times to the U.S. House of Representatives from Tucson and was the first Arizonan named to a Cabinet position — Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy Administration. His 1963 book “The Quiet Crisis,” a history of the attitudes and practices of conservationist movement in America, was an impetus for the environmental movement. His brother, Rep. Morris K. Udall, represented Tucson in Congress for 30 years. Morris’ sons Randy and Tom are national leaders in the Peak Oil movement.

Published in the Arizona Daily Star, November 19, 2006

“We are all riders on the Earth together.”
— Archibald MacLeish (1969)

The aftermath of a discordant election is a good time to focus on our biggest, most neglected problem — global warming.

Two powerful energy trends are converging to define the parameters of a changing world. The first involves the approaching peak of world oil production and the impacts it will have on the lives of people everywhere.

The second relates to the warming of the atmosphere by the incessant combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. The burning of those finite fossil fuels is producing carbon that is damaging the climates of all continents.

For more than a decade the world has been waiting for our nation to step forward and help organize a wholistic strategy to deal with this issue.

There is no dispute about the central facts. The United States, by itself, is burning fossil fuels that emit 25 percent of the heat-trapping carbon that is altering climates. It is also beyond dispute that the problem is truly global and will take unprecedented global cooperation to solve.

A good place to start a national dialogue about controlling the carbon buildup is to look at emissions of U.S. coal plants. To date leaders in Washington have excused inaction by arguing that any campaign to curb carbon would be so costly that it would “wreck” America’s economy and plunge the world into another Great Depression.

This is a weird argument for any informed American to make. U.S. prowess as the world leader in perfecting pollution-control technologies is legendary. Since the struggle to check urban smog 50 years ago, American specialists have repeatedly confounded their critics by quickly devising solutions that were surprisingly cheap. A can-do spirit (remember the Manhattan Project and the space program?) has long expressed American optimism when “impossible” ideas were proposed.

Today scientists are telling Americans that technologies already exist to sequester carbon before it is released into the air. Capturing the carbon at the site of coal plants and transporting it to safe depositories would be another triumph for those experts. Moreover, the logical region to carry out this work is the American West. For more than a century, in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, petroleum companies created huge geological caverns where carbon can be safely stored.

Any positive technological initiative by the United States would surely stir excitement and hope. But bold, robust leadership must come from the wealthy nations that have created the problem. I present, herewith, one concept that might provoke serious thought.

A Concept for Planetary Action:

I ask you to envision what might be done if the world’s richest countries created a research and development entity to serve the energy needs of the whole world.

Imagine that the 20 most advanced nations — whose energy programs put three-fourths of the carbon into the atmosphere — formed a consortium to develop solutions to future energy problems. If these countries pooled their financial resources on an equitable basis, they could create a powerhouse that could change the course of history.

Assume, for example, that those countries agreed that each member nation would initially contribute to the annual budget in proportion to the heat-trapping carbon it released into the atmosphere the previous year. Such a sharing would vouchsafe budgets needed to grapple with the most urgent energy problems.

Such an entity could assemble teams of superlative scientists, engineers and design specialists.

Any such effort would obviously flounder unless China (which recently passed the United States as the leading producer of coal carbon) were a full-fledged partner.

There are compelling reasons to anticipate that China would eagerly join such a consortium. As the home of the world’s fastest growing economy and the locale of some of the most polluted cities in the world, self-interest would dictate participation.

Author Thomas L. Friedman, whose columns frequently appear in the Star, recently reminded that for two decades China has graduated more scientists and engineers than any other country. This could be a huge reservoir of brainpower to help build a new and better world.

Humankind is at an energy crossroad. The world’s road right now involves fierce competition, potential shortages, high prices, frantic searches for undiscovered petroleum and growing environmental disasters. The new path, envisioned by energy planners, features vigorous international cooperation, bold technological advances, sharing, rapid development of renewable resources, and environmental stability.

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