At a recent public meeting in downtown Arizona City, I was almost lynched when I dared suggest to the gathered bluehairs that the nearby proposed gigantic 2,000-megawatt Toltec Power Generation Plant just northwest of Tucson (and adjacent to the new Ironwood Forest National Monument) was a rotten idea. No NIMBYs in this crowd--these folks truly believe the thing will be a wonderful addition to their semi-rural lifestyle. You could see the joyful glint in the eye of the Southwestern Power Group II representative as he successfully conned almost everyone in the room.
Never mind the carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia sulfates, noise and light pollution, destruction of the region's view-shed, increases in respiratory illnesses, the tremendous aquifer draw-down in an area already plagued by huge subsidence fissures, the fact that the plant is being built within the Santa Cruz River floodplain, and the visual blight of a huge power plant right next to an incredibly scenic national monument.
I remember how just 20 years ago the crystal clear skies over Southern Arizona were something glorious to behold. People with respiratory illnesses from around the world flocked here seeking relief or even a cure in our famously clean air. In rural Pinal County you can now gaze north at the giant brown cloud of filth hugging the ground, then look south at that growing cloud of brown goop, and realize that we are on the brink of joining these two brown clouds into one vast regional system of dirty, disgusting air. Think about that next time you turn on your computer or hop in your SUV to go get a bagel.
Twenty new power plants (at last count) are about to be slam-dunked on Southern Arizona thanks to electrical deregulation. We will become a power farm for Southern California and northern Mexico's maquilas, sacrificing our air and our water and our views for cheap power that will be shipped out of state to the highest bidder. Two of the plants are next to national monuments, one is atop a huge archaeological site/prehistoric burial ground, and another is adjacent to a National Historic Landmark. And nobody seems to give a damn.
Maybe that's why Dave Foreman left Arizona and moved to Albuquerque. Perhaps he was tired of living in a place that's all talk and no action. With the remarkable exceptions of Carolyn Campbell and her Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Bill Broyles and his Sonoran Desert National Park Project, activist Gayle Hartmann and a tiny handful of others, we in Southern Arizona have rolled over and allowed one of the most remarkable landscapes in the world to be laid waste by the powers of greed and stupidity, and it's about to get a lot worse. By our inaction, we have given away our home place to the highest bidder.
Dave Foreman has always been a man of action, and great moral character. One of my personal heroes, his passion for the natural world led him to found the radical environmental group Earth First!, then later the Wildlands Project. (Ironically, even the Wildlands Project is now leaving town and making tracks for Vermont, leaving behind a Tucson regional office). Wildlands is one of the very few groups taking a big-picture approach to the realities of conservation biology and the ways in which ecosystems really work. You should immediately send it a check and read its quarterly journal, Wild Earth.
A dynamic, powerful speaker and writer, Foreman is now branching out from his earlier nonfiction efforts into the potentially dangerous waters of fiction. His new novel, The Lobo Outback Funeral Home, navigates the current just fine.
Set in a thinly disguised "fictional" place in New Mexico, the book rambles around Southern Arizona as well. There are real-life local references to our own Pat's Chili Dogs, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Jack Dykinga, and even to an important book by an old professor of mine, Quaternary Extinctions by Paul Martin--a brilliant UA paleoecologist (now retired) and one of the last true giants of research on the Sonoran Desert.
The book rockets along with plenty of macho men, tougher women, sex, violence, birds, horses, wolves, drinking, smoking, eating, camping, Bob Wills, poetry--there's something for everyone here.
He describes the damage wrought by heavy earth-moving equipment as being like "biker elephants rampaging on methamphetamines," one of many vivid, memorable metaphors you won't find elsewhere. Foreman writes like he speaks: larger than life, in your face, always truthful and passionate, with enough humor to permanently lock his message deep in the back of your brain.
Foreman's message is this: If you don't get out there, do the hard work, and stand up for what's right, you stand to lose all that's important to you.
How very appropriate, as we prepare to cede Southern Arizona to the Captains of Industry so they can convert our lovely desert home into a gigantic electrical generating facility. Read the book. Then call Jane Hull and the Arizona Corporation Commission and demand to know why the hell we need 20 new power plants right here, right now.