Environmental Actions

As Earth Day approaches, community and political leaders ponder the planet's future

Pollution and its air-quality impacts were the at center of attention in Tucson on April 22, 1970--the first Earth Day. Events to mark the occasion included well-attended UA lectures and high school assemblies.

A syndicated story on the front page of the Tucson Citizen also proclaimed: "The idea of it all is that pollution of the air, land and water must cease if humanity is to survive."

To emphasize the importance of solving that dilemma, the newspaper editorially stated: "If we ignore environmental and population pollution when this week is over, we all will cry later."

Now, as another Earth Day is celebrated 37 years later, many are shedding tears for the Earth itself, fearing the rising fever it has been given by human activity is irreparably damaging the environment.

"We have to live as sustainably as possible," declares Bill Halvorson, a local research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, "because there is a finite amount of water and energy. If we don't, all the dire predictions (about global climate change) will happen. We'll run out of water and energy, and society as we know it won't be sustainable."

Keri Dixon, membership director for the Center for Biological Diversity, agrees. "People must reduce their carbon footprint by changing their habits to reduce energy consumption. This includes their travel habits and in Tucson taking advantage of the sun by capturing solar energy."

Pointing out that coal-burning produces much of Tucson's electricity, Dixon says that by using more solar energy, "We'd save a lot of natural resources and keep pollution out of the air."

Homebuilder John Wesley Miller concurs, and hopes more people start taking advantage of the sun's energy. "On existing homes, they can add solar hot water and consider solar electricity while installing more insulation and changing to energy-efficient windows."

To facilitate that transition, Miller calls for accelerated action by local governments. They should "incentivize doing environmentally sensitive things," he says, by increasing existing fee waivers for things such as installing solar energy devices on homes.

To demonstrate what is possible in new home construction, Miller, on May 7, is hosting a grand opening for a "net zero" energy house in his Armory Park del Sol subdivision--the home produces as much energy as it uses.

Arizona Corporation Commission Member Kris Mayes also thinks the state government needs to "focus on changing the ways we produce electricity in Arizona." One way of doing this, she says, is to encourage more renewable energy use in new homes.

At the same time, Mayes highlights the ACC's past role in the process of altering electrical generation in the state. It did this by adopting rules last fall which require 15 percent of all utility-generated energy to be provided from renewable technologies by 2025--up from about 1 percent presently.

Calling the commission's decision--which mandates that 30 percent of this future goal be met by residential or nonutility sources, such as solar panels on homes--"the most ambitious in the country," Mayes adds that she hopes people use rebates now available through Tucson Electric Power Company to start installing these systems.

Tucson City Councilwoman Shirley Scott offers a different approach: "Plant trees and conserve water," she says simply. She pushed several years ago for the municipal government to conserve energy in its buildings and vehicles, and Scott hopes these policies will be continued.

Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias suggests another answer: "We should reconsider how we get around town by using our cars less, and get more exercise on bikes or use mass transit."

As for what county government can do to help, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors states: "We need better land-use planning while continuing to conserve our important biological areas."

Beth Gorman, of the county's Department of Environmental Quality, takes a somewhat different view. "Governments need to be as flexible as possible with regulations (in order) to conserve resources and preserve the environment," she says, offering an example of a composting toilet which at first was frowned on by some government regulators.

As for what individuals can do to help the Earth, Gorman says, "They need to become aware how their daily decisions affect the planet. Then they should take actions to balance the scales," between their actions and the environment.

The views of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality concerning the most important things individuals--and the state government--can do to help the Earth are unknown. The department didn't bother to answer the questions. Also not calling back was a representative of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Maybe the group is too busy getting ready for its heavily publicized May Town Hall on Tucson's future.

While that exclusive club of the community's movers and shakers didn't respond to the question, Halvorson, of the USGS has a definite opinion about the most important thing local governments can do to aid the Earth.

"Our growth rates can't be maintained," he says, "and our water use can't, either."